I saw this production of Tosca when it was first broadcast on PBS in the 70s. I remembered little of it (I was pretty young at the time) except for the finale to Act I. When I finally saw it again recently, I was pleased to see that my lone memory of this Tosca was reasonably accurate - a splendid church, booming bells, chanting chorus, and a very tall, handsome dark-haired villain pretending to be pious while plotting evilly. Unfortunately, the rest of the film did not prove to be as memorable for me. Milnes is a very interesting Scarpia - I like the idea of playing him as a younger man, not a grotesque old lecher. Tosca quite clearly notices him and has some conflicted feelings; he's often very close to her, even brushing against her, and she doesn't pull away or try to repel him - she's not flirting, but she does seem drawn to him, and it takes some effort to recollect herself and break away. Unfortunately, I don't find either Milnes or Kabaivanska very good actors; they're singers, even when they don't physically have to do the work of singing on the spot (the voices were recorded separately). Milnes's Scarpia just isn't sinister enough. This Scarpia seems to see his pursuit of Tosca almost as a game; he even smiles when she flees across the room from him and he pursues her. It undercuts his motivation - an evening's fun and games just isn't reason enough for his bloody-minded determination to send Cavaradossi to his death. I miss the darker shades of Scarpia I've seen in other portrayals; this one doesn't seem to be driven by inner demons, and it makes it hard to understand why he does what he's doing. There is one good moment when the attractive facade breaks and we get a glimpse of something ugly underneath: when Tosca asks him "Quanto?" - "How much? What's your price?" It's insulting, and meant to be, and while Milnes is smiling smugly as he responds, "Gia, me dicon venal" - "Oh yes, I know what they say about me - that I take bribes," his expression gradually changes to one of rage, even while his words remain light. He DOES feel the insult, and I got the very strong feeling that he'd make Tosca pay for it once he gets his hands on her. But apart from that one moment, he is quite gentlemanly - he doesn't manhandle her, in fact he barely even touches her, which takes away from the sense of danger and ordeal that Tosca is facing. Though I must say, he does have a way with a riding-crop when he first enters in Act I; there might be some sado-masochistic overtones there, but they're not strong enough. Milnes's singing is quite unique; he has a very individual way of attacking verses from all sorts of unpredictable angles. It makes him very exciting to listen to. Plus, he can sing question marks; I've never heard anyone else do it just like that. The camera-work is fine, except for some bizarre shakiness at the big climax to Act II. Oddly enough, I didn't particularly like the "natural" style of filming this movie, even though the setting was beautiful. It seems to me that once you take an opera off the stage, there has to be some concession to the inherent artificiality of the art form; just shooting it like a movie somehow left me feeling uninvolved and out in the cold. Something more stylized would have matched better with the musical performance we were experiencing.
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