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San Diego Opera and the politics of Tosca

It's an election year and we might be missing the politics

Napoleon Bonaparte: Not appearing in this opera.
Napoleon Bonaparte: Not appearing in this opera.

What if the best way to get sex from a woman was to arrest her boyfriend and threaten to kill him unless the targeted woman meets the demands of your pants?

From what I can tell, the character of Scarpia thinks this will work in the opera Tosca, which opens at San Diego Opera this Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Theater.

Back to Scarpia. He makes an interesting play. He seems to say, "I want to have sex with you, so I’m going to arrest your boyfriend and kill him if you don’t." Scarpia is a character that many will consider to be merely creepy because of his sexual appetite but there is something more sinister at work with this guy.

Video:

Tosca

Te Deum (Bryn Terfel, The Royal Opera)

Te Deum (Bryn Terfel, The Royal Opera)

We can recognize Scarpia as Don Giovanni or The Count from Mozart’s operas Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro. What’s the similarity? A man abusing his position in order to get sex.

With all of these men, we want to condemn them for their sexuality but their damning characteristic is the abuse of power. Policies regarding sexual harassment in the workplace are about preventing the abuse of power not preventing sex. If people want to have the sex, they’re going to have the sex.

I believe I mentioned that opera is full of politics. If I didn’t then allow me to say now that opera is full of politics.

Operas such as Tosca are politically charged from start to finish. In addition to Scarpia's abuse of power toward a sexual end, there is an even bigger political figure in Tosca, but he never shows up.

That character is Napoleon. Without the threat of Napoleon overthrowing the political order, of which Scarpia is a part, there’s no show.

Scarpia is able to arrest Tosca’s artist boyfriend, Mario Cavaradossi, on the charges of harboring an escaped political prisoner. The prisoner was involved with the failed “Republica Roma,” which was apparently pro-Bonaparte.

As an aside, how is the fictional artist Mario Cavaradossi not based on the nonfictional artist Michelangelo Caravaggio? Both are the most famous painters in Rome known for their church murals and violent temperament. I’m not sure that pertains to anything, but it struck me as at least interesting.

I’m not going to get all preachy and try to tie in any current examples regarding the abuse of power, but I will say that what fueled the consumption of opera in the past was the immediacy of the politics involved. Without the fire of political conviction we lose a great deal of the passion with which audiences consumed opera in the past.

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Napoleon Bonaparte: Not appearing in this opera.
Napoleon Bonaparte: Not appearing in this opera.

What if the best way to get sex from a woman was to arrest her boyfriend and threaten to kill him unless the targeted woman meets the demands of your pants?

From what I can tell, the character of Scarpia thinks this will work in the opera Tosca, which opens at San Diego Opera this Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Theater.

Back to Scarpia. He makes an interesting play. He seems to say, "I want to have sex with you, so I’m going to arrest your boyfriend and kill him if you don’t." Scarpia is a character that many will consider to be merely creepy because of his sexual appetite but there is something more sinister at work with this guy.

Video:

Tosca

Te Deum (Bryn Terfel, The Royal Opera)

Te Deum (Bryn Terfel, The Royal Opera)

We can recognize Scarpia as Don Giovanni or The Count from Mozart’s operas Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro. What’s the similarity? A man abusing his position in order to get sex.

With all of these men, we want to condemn them for their sexuality but their damning characteristic is the abuse of power. Policies regarding sexual harassment in the workplace are about preventing the abuse of power not preventing sex. If people want to have the sex, they’re going to have the sex.

I believe I mentioned that opera is full of politics. If I didn’t then allow me to say now that opera is full of politics.

Operas such as Tosca are politically charged from start to finish. In addition to Scarpia's abuse of power toward a sexual end, there is an even bigger political figure in Tosca, but he never shows up.

That character is Napoleon. Without the threat of Napoleon overthrowing the political order, of which Scarpia is a part, there’s no show.

Scarpia is able to arrest Tosca’s artist boyfriend, Mario Cavaradossi, on the charges of harboring an escaped political prisoner. The prisoner was involved with the failed “Republica Roma,” which was apparently pro-Bonaparte.

As an aside, how is the fictional artist Mario Cavaradossi not based on the nonfictional artist Michelangelo Caravaggio? Both are the most famous painters in Rome known for their church murals and violent temperament. I’m not sure that pertains to anything, but it struck me as at least interesting.

I’m not going to get all preachy and try to tie in any current examples regarding the abuse of power, but I will say that what fueled the consumption of opera in the past was the immediacy of the politics involved. Without the fire of political conviction we lose a great deal of the passion with which audiences consumed opera in the past.

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