The Baritone's the Baddie

There are some likeable baritone roles in opera (think Pappageno and Dandini) but there are a lot more twisted and conflicted characters (think Onegin, Count de Luna and Germont) and others (think Giovanni) that combine evil with wicked pleasure and even fun (think Mephisopheles). You need a good sneer and a fine eyebrow-raise to sing baritone. There's a list of roles here! George Bernard Shaw said, 'Opera is when a tenor and a soprano want to make love, and are prevented from doing so by a baritone. '

But Scarpia? A character with no redeeming qualities, but immensely complicated, he is symbolic of corruption and sadism. This makes him almost impossibly hard to play, and great baritones have varied in their interpretations. But the music he is given to represent that character is extraordinary and the drama-in-music he conveys is overwhelming. Here's a great interview with one of the less feted baritones, Gerald Finley, on what it takes to learn and sing the role of one of opera's greatest baddies. His debut at Royal Opera House was widely praised, offering a very different Scarpia. 'Finley’s Scarpia is a snake rather than a brute, the venom coming through a sneer rather than a snarl' said Bachtrack.

Gerald Finley playing Scarpia as a snake

This week we come to Act 11 of Tosca, famous for the great aria for the soprano – ‘Vissi d'Arte’. Pause there for a moment. Here's the full libretto in English - and here is the translation of the Vissi d'Arte lyrics.

And here, it is in concert (2018), in memorium for one of the great dramatic sopranos, Mirella Freni, who died aged 84 this week.

Now about Scarpia!

Thomas Hampson's elegant Scarpia

We are comparing in our course two productions that feature Thomas Hampson's elegant mafia boss version and Bryn Terfel's scary, slobbish bully. Hampson sings wonderfully but seems too nice, more at home with 'Simple Gifts'. Terfel has done other versions - many of them! There's a full opera version here, with Gheorghiu, Terfel and yes Kaufmann, in Vienna, 2016.

Bryn's bully version

Now to compare other fabulous baritones:

Start with another full opera - an amazing film performance in 1976, Floria Tosca : Raina Kabaivanska, Mario Cavardossi :Placido Domingo, Barone Scarpia is Sherrill Milnes, for many still the greatest Scarpia.

If you don't have time to watch the whole, go to 40mins for 'Va Tosca' and then carry on to Act II.

And here is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Scarpia. (Amazing cast alongside him - Birgit Nilsson, Tosca. Franco Corelli, Mario Cavaradossi.)

One for Joan's fans, Tosca was Sutherland's first role with Puccini, aided by the baritone often judged the best of Scarpias, Tito Gobbi. It's 1968 and here are - Joan Sutherland & Tito Gobbi. (Vissi d'arte begins 6:04 )

More Gobbi? Recording here from 1959 at La Scala: Tito Gobbi is Scarpia, Renata Tebaldi is Tosca. [1959, La Scala].

There's always another Scarpia: Michael Volle with Anna Netrebko at the Met

And finally, another in memorium. In glorious voice and a hero in his own land, this Scarpia grimaces splendidly, but the wicked grin gives it away; he never actually played Scarpia. Dmitri Hvorostovsky sings 'Va Tosca!' from the end of Act 1. (He did play Onegin, Count de Luna and Germont as well as Giovanni).

This was in 2013 Live in Red Square Moscow with the Orchestre national de Russie and Grand chœur de l'académie de musique de Moscou.

Don't you wish you'd been there?



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