A Night at the Opera with Tosca

Posted on December 14, 2012


It was another night at the opera for Bond while trailing the crooks to the magnificent open air opera stage of Bregenz, Austria. After the set by Lake Constance had impressed Barbara Broccoli and Marc Forster the crew came to shoot arguably the best scene of the film during ten days between 29th April and 9th May of 2008.
The astonishing set design with the great eye in focus is almost aesthetically overwhelming and suitable for the production of Puccini’s Tosca.

Tosca was originally a five act drama by Victorien Sardou and after much discussion and quarrels it is said, Giacomo Puccini came to compose the opera with a libretto written by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. Apparently the aging Giuseppe Verdi had expressed a wish to compose Tosca but only if Sardou altered the ending. As Tosca is set in Rome it was decided that it would premiere at the Roman Teatro Costanzis.
The premiere of 14th January in 1900 (the first opera in the new century) was an uneasy one. The show was preceded by threats of sabotage from Puccini’s enemies. He and the conductor had received rather menacing letters and it was suspected that a bomb attack would hit the theatre, with all its dignitaries including Queen Margherita and her husband the rather ruthless King Umberto I who was actually assassinated seven months later. On the night of the premiere the police and the queuing spectators had a proper punch up as the law enforcement sought the bomb man with brutal manners. The irritated audience finally took their seats but when the conductor raised his baton but the fuss in the salon was all too disturbing and not even on his third attempt could he start the show due to the unrest. Puccini remained calm.

At the fifth attempt the opera was started but when Tosca made her entrance ten minutes in, nobody had even heard the music because of the commotion. People yelled and cursed, and the conductor Mungone ordered the curtain to come down. Puccini’s enemies were prepared to gloat at the fiasco. People were leaving their seats when Mungone solved the situation; he started playing the Italian National Anthem. Like a bolt through the crowd, everybody stood up, listening with devotion. After a few plays Mungone quickly had his orchestra playing the overture of Tosca and the show was finally on without further intermezzi.

Tosca is truly one of the great operas. It is cruel, passionate and violent. It has a great female lead in Tosca and a vicious villain in Scarpia. . Tosca proved to be a great success with audiences in Bregenz. The production sold 140,128 seats in 2008, making Tosca the most-seen revival of the past ten years with 93 percent of capacity sold.
But then again: “Tosca isn’t for everyone.”

Susanne Schmidt who works at the theatre in Bregenz has given some clarity about which music exerts were used for the film. The church scene with “Te Deum” sung by a large group of chorus and extras at the end of act 1 was mainly used. But during the chase and shooting scene between Bond and the henchman, the film quickly changes between that action scene and the attempted rape of Tosca by Scarpia and the subsequent murder of Scarpia by Tosca’s hands. Those scenes are part of the 2nd act.
It is the absolute best scene of the film.