Tosca at the Baths of Caracalla, Rome

In 2008 the Teatro dell’Opera staged thirteen
performances of Franco Zeffirelli’s new elaborate staging. In the past
twenty years, the Teatro dell’Opera touted productions nearly every other
season of Tosca designed by distinguished directors such as Mauro
Bolognini and Guiliano Montaldo. The last five seasons of the small
“Piccolo Lirico” alone has launched 300 performances of

This new adaptation of Tosca is performed in the open theater of
the Baths of Caracalla, a magnificent monument. Heritage restrictions do not
allow performances within the colossal ruins. Productions, therefore, are
staged on a platform in front. Consequently, this limits set changes between
the three acts and necessitates minimal changes in props and costumes.

Eduardo Sanchi surrounds the stage with a black-and-white aerial view of
modern Rome’s city center. Red circles mark the main locations of the
opera: Sant’Andrea della Valle Church, Castel Sant’Angelo and a
very red Tiber crossing the stage. This dramatic set serves as the perfect
vehicle for the new concept of Tosca. This is not the “blood and
guts” drama, as the late Paul Hume wrote when he was the music editor for
the Washington Post.

There are plenty of blood and guts, of course, as well as passion and erotic
impulses. Yet the focal point of the opera is a new and different one. The
staging has the city center crowded with inquisitive priests and clerics
throughout the performance, where the oppressively ubiquitous clergy, to
paraphrase Anais Nin, are like a vast lead roof which covers the world.
Cavaradossi is tortured by the cassock-wearing Scarpia, here a bishop who
desperately craves sadistic sex, although it seems that he might be enjoying
some young Swiss guard as well as Tosca. There is also one final
surprise—Tosca does not jump off the Castel Sant’Angelo’s
tower into the river. Instead she drowns in the red Tiber embracing
Cavaradossi’s body.

Director Franco Ripa di Meana has a literary basis for these changes. An
exchange of letters among Puccini, Illica, Giacosa, and Sardou have been
unearthed, revealing an intent of changing the end with a mad scene, Tosca
killing Scarpia in a state of madness and then killing herself. Yet Sardou was
adamant about the ending, though he had only an approximate idea of Rome, and
no knowledge that the Tiber did not flow under Castel Sant’Angelo. In
short, the production is strongly anti-clerical, a bit weird, but brilliant!

A funny accident took place on the opening night (July 14th) at the
beginning of the third act—a live sheep bleated onstage, serving as
counterpoint to the shepherd’s day break song, and a moment of unwanted
comic relief in an otherwise tense blood-and-guts, passion-and-sex musical

The usual disclaimer of the difficulties of performing outdoors must be
made. And it is to be added that across the street a major political
demonstration had been organized. Luckily, they were quite good mannered and
did not make excessive noise. The audience could sense that the conductor,
Paolo Olmi, was very professional and the orchestra was well familiar with the


The star of the evening was Fabio Armiliato singing Cavaradossi for the
134th time. His clear timbre, sensual legato, perfect phrasing, physique and
skillful acting made him perfect for the role. Michaela Carosi performed Tosca
well with a big voice. But diction was poor and, moreover, her second and third
act costuming (early 20th century aristocratic gowns) did not suit her well.
Giorgio Surian was an effective Scarpia. Roberto Abbondanza deserves special
recognition for his interpretation of the Sacrestan, whose comic persona masks
his role as a willing abettor of Scarpia’s machinations.

Giuseppe Pennisi

image_description=Scene from Tosca [Photo courtesy of Teatro dell’Opera di Roma]
product_title=Giacomo Puccini: Tosca
product_by=Floria Tosca: Micaela Carosi (14, 16, 21, 4, 6) / Virginia Todisco (15, 17, 22, 30); Cavaradosi: Fabio Armiliato (14, 16, 21, 4, 6) / Valter Borin (15, 17, 22, 30); Scarpia Giorgio Surian (14, 16, 21, 4, 6) / Giovanni Meoni (15, 17, 22, 30); Sagrestano: Roberto Abbondanza (14, 16, 17, 21, 30) / Carlo Di Cristoforo (15, 22, 4, 6); Angelotti: Alessandro Svab; Spoletta: Mario Bolognesi; Sciarrone: Alessandro Battiato (14, 15, 16, 17, 21) / Antonio Taschini (22, 4) / Riccardo Cortellacci (30, 6); Carceriere: Angelo Nardinocchi (14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 22, 30) / Riccardo Coltellacci (4) / Antonio Taschini (6); Pastorello: Marta Pacifici. Coro di Voci Bianche di Roma dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia e del Teatro dell’Opera. Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Dell’opera. Nuovo allestimento. Maestro concertatore e Direttore: Paolo Olmi. Maestro del Coro: Andrea Giorgi. Regia: Franco Ripa di Meana. Scene: Edoardo Sanchi. Costumi: Silvia Aymonino. Luci: Agostino Angelini.
product_id=Above: Scene from Tosca

All photos courtesy of Teatro dell’Opera di Roma