The Metropolitan Opera Presents: Season 9, Episode 3

Tosca (27 Mar. 1985)
"Live from the Metropolitan Opera" Tosca (original title)

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An opera in three acts about an escaped political prisoner, a prima donna, and the brutal chief of the secret police.


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Title: Tosca (27 Mar 1985)

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Episode cast overview:
Hildegard Behrens ...
Cornell MacNeil ...
James Courtney ...
Italo Tajo ...
Russell Christopher ...
Richard Vernon ...


An opera in three acts about an escaped political prisoner, a prima donna, and the brutal chief of the secret police.

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27 March 1985 (USA)  »

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Version of Tosca (1909) See more »

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Another Metropolitan Opera Hit
3 February 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This is one of the better staged performances of Puccini's Tosca. It was filmed in 1984 and stars Placido Domingo as Mario Cavaradossi, Hildegard Behrens as the diva Tosca, and Cornell McNeill as the villainous Baron Scarpia. Franco Zefferelli, film director and long associated with set design/art direction in opera, provides a lush and lavish background scenery. He emulated the Cathedral of Rome for the Church scenes/Te Deum and his passionate dedication to authenticity serves him well in this production. Although there are indeed better Toscas out there with even more powerful sopranos in the role, this one is nothing to laugh at either.

Hildegard Behrens, a German/Wagnerian soprano, follows in the footsteps of Birgit Nilsson as Tosca. Her intensity, her passion and soaring high notes are quite thrilling. Her acting is laser-sharp. She is majestic, noble, and a tragic, suffering heroine. Tosca, in love with Cavaradossi, an artist and political activist, finds herself trapped in the sinister Baron Scarpia's plot. Cornell McNeill as Scarpia is devilish and quite powerful. He is probably quite enjoyable in the role because he reminds so many people of Tito Gobbi, who was largely considered the best interpreter of Scarpia. The legendary performances of Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi is seldom seen these days. Cornell McNeill may be of the "stand there and sing" type of singer but he oozes with corruption and sinister evil in every note. His lines at the end of the Te Deum.."Tosca you make me forget God" are downright blasphemous and appropriately evil.

For me, the best part of this particular Tosca is Placido Domingo as Cavaradossi. He nailed the role. He is romantic, idealistic, and very masculine. His lush and high tenor voice is very moving. For those who are unaware, Placido Domingo in 80's voice is quite secure and very experienced but his younger voice in the 70's is probably more vigorous. He had indeed performed Cavaradossi in a 1975 film opposite Raina Kabavainska, a film shot outside in the exact Italian locations. That one is a better pick for Tosca but only for a film version. This is the best STAGE VERSION, mainly because of the lavish attention to detail by Franco Zefferelli.

Hildegard Behrens is OK in the role but, like Birgit Nilsson, she is accused of being too Wagnerian, too German, when the role of Tosca is the epitome of Italian womanhood. An Italian dramatic voice is better suited for Tosca- Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi and Leontine Price are the greatest Toscas ever to grace the stage. But do not downplay Miss Hildegard Behrens. She has her moments, especially in her confrontation with Scarpia and subsequent murder scene. "Questo il beccio di Tosca!" (This is Tosca's Kiss!) Muori Muori Muori..Die..Die..the most chilling and electrifying words ever spoken in opera. Nowadays, however, it is popular to cast a very beautiful and dramatic singer in the role- Angela Gheorghiu for example. Compared to the likes of Gheorghiu, Hildegard Behrens looks very old indeed. But I dismiss such matters when you hear how powerful her performance is and her singing is extraordinary. Again this is the best STAGE version.

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