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"Tosca's Kiss" is a documentary about elderly opera singers living in a
specialized old people's home for opera singers and musicians. Now
forgotten, but once noted performers remember their careers.
However the film is as much about old age as the theatre; as each performer introduced, talks about what they achieved in their careers; as well as what they couldn't achieve and the goals they couldn't achieve. In a holistic sense this film is about life.
We had seen this documentary when it was first released. It was a treat
to watch it again recently. It is a joy to see all these old opera
singers and musicians living in retirement at the house that Giuseppe
Verdi, perhaps the world's best opera composer of all times, created
for them to spend their last years. Daniel Schmid, the director, gives
an encore to some of the residents at Casa Verdi when he made this
documentary as a loving tribute to those that gave so much and are now
forgotten. It is sad to think that most of the people in the
documentary made in 1984 might not be with us any longer.
The film showcases Sara Scuderi, a soprano who was one of the best during her prime. Like most of the other people living at Casa Verdi, she shares some of her memories for us. Best of all is watching her listening to her own recording of Tosca, an opera that she obviously identifies herself with. One can't help but wonder what goes through her mind at that time. Perhaps, her appearances at La Scala, or the Colon in Buenos Aires? It must be hard for someone to find herself in that position after years of being acclaimed and in the limelight.
There are others like Leonida Bellon, who sings in quite a strong voice arias from operas in which he appeared. His encounter with Sara Scuderi in one of the hallways where she, as Tosca, kills him, who is supposed to be Scarpia, just like in a performance and both stay in character. We are given a tour of the personal belongings by Giuseppe Mancchini, who shows us his costumes he keeps well preserved at Casa Verdi. Giulietta Scimoniatto, a leading soprano who is much younger that the rest of the people we meet, shares some moments about the importance of maintaining this refuge for the older musicians.
Giovanni Puligheddu, a composer and the main conductor for all the singers in the residence, gives us a tour also of his many trophies and diplomas, and even gives a demonstration of one of his improvisations. For a man of his age, it is an amazing feat for him, or anyone else to be able to do what he does.
Thanks to Daniel Schmid we are given a glance of some of the singers that were at their prime during the first half of the twentieth century. These opera performers and musicians are now waiting for their final curtain surrounded by the music they adored.
This is a delight; worth seeking out if you have the chance and the
The Casa Verdi is a retirement home for aging and impecunious Italian opera singers. This is a documentary about the institution and some of its denizens in the early eighties.
Most documentaries about artists end up being a bit 'precious'. This is about a pack of old hams who know they're hams: they play to the camera, they 'find their lights' like old pros. There's a pecking order in the place, from the lowly chorus member sculling soup ("the chorus is the most important part of the opera company", she opines) right up to the near-star Sara Scuderi.
These people all have music and performing in their blood; it's a total part of their identities. Somehow it's a wonderful demonstration of how music gets under the skin of its performers, and never leaves them, even when the ability to perform it diminishes.
In the opera, "Tosca's Kiss" is the kiss of death; but this is a film about living.
A moving and often very funny documentary. While it focuses on people
who have "survived" and outlived an opera career, I think it has
tremendous relevance for any of us in the performance/performing arts.
There is much relevance here to the short span of a "good career", how
older stars are pushed out by younger ones, while still in their prime.
The husband and wife team have a really eloquent moment of unspoken tension as he refuses to let her have the limelight and ultimately steals the camera from her face as she resignedly looks to the director for help. I would have loved to hear more of what she had to say without the ham present.
My only quibble is that the harpist is unidentified although she is interviewed, and she is also not identified in the bonus materials.
I plan to give this DVD as a gift to two people. One marvelous side effect is wanting to look up recordings of these singers. Some of them still have moving powerful voices, imagine them at the height of their skill!
Stumbling across this film, made in 1984 by Daniel Schmid, justified my
Netflix bill for an entire year. In today's youth-obsessed culture,
where we are eager to shower even the least- talented with untold
wealth, it is poignant to see artists who have given their lives for
music enduring retirement at Casa di Riposo Verdi in Milan. But
enduring on their own terms you cannot hold an opera stage without a
supreme sense of self. Their daily world is full of music and
reminiscences of past glories.
There are so many bittersweet moments in the film: Giuseppe Manachini proudly displaying his worn costumes that spark his memory; Sara Scuderi raptly listening to a 1940's recording of herself as Tosca; Giovanni Puligheddu proffering his musical credentials; Leonida Bellon encountering Scuderi in a hallway and launching into Act II of Tosca, in the end receiving "il bacio di Tosca". The Casa Verdi staff, happily and humorously, treat these histrionics as normal behavior.
Shamefully, I know nothing about any of these musicians who shared the stage with such giants as Callas, Gigli, and Simionato, but you only have to witness Scuderi's snatches of Vissi d'arte, in a remarkably preserved voice, to realize the individuality and personality of her Tosca and that she is no "povera donna, sola, abbandonata in questo popoloso deserto"; Floria is always with her. Maybe not such a bad retirement after all.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Il Bacio Di Tosca or "Tosca's Kiss" (1984): Starring Sara Scuderi,
Giuletta Simionato, Giuseppe Manacchini, Salvatore Locapo, Leonida
Bellon, Giovanni Puligheddu....Director Daniel Schmid, Screenplay
Daniel Schmid, Produced By Marcel Hoehn, Hans Ulrich Jordi,
Cinematography Renato Berta, Production Design Raul Gimenez.
Director Daniel Schmid's 1984 Italian documentary "Tosca's Kiss" has its ups and downs but it's a real treat for the devoted opera enthusiast and opera buff, which, surprisingly, is no longer a minority in America, although the art form has always enjoyed greater success in Europe. Daniel Schmid takes us to Milan, Italy, circa 1983-1984 where he was allowed to film inside the Casa Verdi "Verdi Retirement House", a building that was actually designed and supervised by the grand 19th century Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi himself. The historic building with spacious rooms and a museum which contains busts of Verdi as well as old photographs, is home to a number of retired opera singers from the 20th century. It's possible that, now, in 2006, many of these veteran opera singers are dead. But it's also very likely the Casa Verdi still continues to house retired opera singers. The soprano Sara Scuderi, who sang with Beniamino Gigli, a top tenor of the 20's and 30's, was herself a big name but is now largely forgotten. She clearly loves the camera and spotlight on her and despite her age, hams it up and steals the show with excerpts from Puccini's Tosca, a role she had made her own. The interview with Scuderi reveals a great deal about the world of opera and the music scene from the pre-World War II and World War II Era. But the real star of the documentary is the more renowned Giuletta Simionato, a mezzo-soprano who enjoyed a brilliant career and sang opposite the world's most famous diva Maria Callas. Names in the opera biz are dropped excessively- names like Enrico Caruso, Mario Del Monaco, Renata Tebaldi, providing this documentary with a kind of educational quality. Phonographs that play opera records and old press photographs, costumes and most importantly people who lived for opera in the difficult days of Nazi Europe and Fascist Italy are all part of this marvelous documentary. But with that said, the documentary suffers from a length that is frankly, too long and therefore boring. We feel ourselves getting older as we watch the these very old people (in their 80's and 90's) and their supremely slow movements, especially when they walk down long corridors. Plus, there is very little in the documentary that most opera fanatics don't already know. This is still a great documentary but you have to have the discipline, intellect and musical appreciation to really enjoy it. It's a trip back to the 80's and to a world of singers and musicians whose glory days are far behind them and who remember them to escape the rapidly modern world who does not need them and to keep from being depressed. We are genuinely moved by their stories and this is what a truly great documentary should aim to do. Especially emotional are such scenes as when Sara Scuderi hears her old record of Tosca (her favorite aria is "Vissi D'Arte) when she and the still very strong tenor Giuseppe Manachi sing duets or when he sings solo arias, to the entire house singing "Va Pensiero" from Nabucco and the Brindisi from Traviata. This is one for the opera lover who is getting older and wiser in his or her appreciation for the art form.
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