By Hadleyblogger Drew
Here's the second half of that video I promised of Callas' Covent Garden performance of Tosca. (And by the way, thanks to Terry Teachout for leading us to these clips.) This picks up where the previous clip ended. Tosca has just sung her famed aria, Vissi d'arte. Now, acquiescing to the demands of Scarpia (the great Tito Gobbi), she agrees to a night of passion in return for the relesase of her lover, Cavaradossi. However, somewhere along the line Tosca changes her mind. She picks up a letter opener and plunges it into Scarpia, killing him, before stealing the pardon for Cavaradossi and escaping into the night. Only to return to the cheers and adulation of the crowd.
Tosca was, as I recall, Callas' debut at Covent Garden, and no doubt the great anticipation has something to do with the tumultuous response of the audience. However, as I suggested earlier, there can be no doubt that this scene sizzles with drama. Callas and Gobbi are old hands at this thing, and it shows.
There is some question, at least recently, as to what was going through Tosca's mind during the early part of this scene. When the Minnesota Opera staged Tosca last year, the director cleverly [sic] had Tosca pick up the murder weapon much earlier, concealing it until the ooportunity arose. This clearly suggests a premeditation I don't think the text warrarnts. Look at the horror in Callas' reaction to what she's done - the confusion (only somewhat caused by Callas' own nearsightedness), the revulsion (my God, what have I done?), the realization that nothing's going to be the same again (you know this opera isn't going to have a happy ending). And the calculation as well - she may be horrified, but she remembers to grab the pardon from Scarpia's dead body before she leaves.
No, I don't really buy the idea of premeditation; it's just one more gimmick to try and put a unique stamp on an operal that doesn't really need anyone fiddling with it. What you see in this scene is drama from two great actors, and that's what makes it one of the great scenes in opera.