Friday, March 21, 2014

Tosca at Ankara Opera House

A Personal Opinion

Dear Readers,
I have forgotten how many times I watched the opera Tosca since my early childhood. Italian director Vincenzo Grisostomi Travaglini has done unique work in Ankara.

Travaglini was sent by the Italian government to Ankara and he worked at the Ankara State Opera House between 2000-2002 with our Ministerial consent. During this period, he staged numerous Italian operas among which Tosca has been one of the most prominent operas. Several years later, we as the audience, still feel that we are in the Premier, watching the same extraordinary performance.

In year 1913, a young officer, Major Mustafa Kemal Bey, as Military Attaché of the Ottoman Empire was in Sofia, Bulgaria. I always wonder while he was watching the Tosca Opera performance at the Sofia State Opera what storms he had in his young mood, particularly during the second act "Damn reign, long live the Freedom (Vittoria, Vittoria)" aria. We know that he watched the opera multiple times in succession. He had a platonic love afflicted with the young beautiful soprano acting the Tosca character. We are all in love with the soprano playing the Tosca character. Atatürk wanted an opera house built in the newly formed Republic of Turkey. The Ankara conservatory was opened in 1936 and the first opera performances were staged in the early 1940s. Beautiful young Turkish soprano Semiha Berksoy was the first star on the stage as Tosca with a great success.

Since they had no digital live translation facilities, they had to translate the libretto into Turkish in parallel with the composition. That gigantic translation work was requested from the legendary poet Nazım Hikmet, who was then serving his prison term in Çankırı. Old opera posters and some brochures from that performance are still available.

I am trying to imagine the 1930s at the Çankaya Presidential House. It probably housed a large Germany made buffet style record player (pickup) set, with two large loud speakers at both ends, together with 78 rpm hard opera records which we call “stone plaques”.

I can imagine the scene since the similar music set was purchased for all top state officials in those years. The same set as we had in guest houses of Alpullu and Turhal Sugar factories together with lots of original 78 rpm opera records placed on the shelf.

Those 78 rpm records were first replaced with 33-rpm during 1970s, after which cassette players came along. No one though understood the incredible nostalgic value of stone plaques (78-rpm records) and the available ones were purchased by collectors at a scrap value.
I had the opportunity to listen to the original Tosca opera in Italian in the guest house of Alpullu Sugar factory in 1973 from a scratched old record. Since my high school years, I had only listened to the Tosca opera in the Turkish. Italian opera performance in the old records was very different.

Several years have passed, on every November 10th, the commemoration day we lost our founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1938, I play Tosca opera again and again, remember him one more time and pray mercy for his soul. Today, I understand better what we really owed to him.

In Çankaya nights in the 1930s, he was able to find some time to listen to short sections from his beloved Tosca opera from professional singers, accompanied by violin or piano. When he was alone, he could have played the stone plaques. It is documented that his eyes watered during those live performances, remembering his youth years in Sofia.

In Tosca, there is love, betrayal, politics, war, torture, rape, violence, murder, execution by firing squad, and suicide. The music is fabulous. Each of the three main opera characters compete among themselves. Each staging team in rotation emerges in a different performance.

Tosca, was created by the Italian composer "Giacomo Puccini". Libretto of the three-act opera-written text was co-authored by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. It was originally a theatrical play named "La Tosca", written by Victorien Sardou. The play was staged in theaters before the opera. Different troupes performed the plat to local audience in Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s.

The first Tosca performance was in Rome "Teatro Costanzi" in 1900. It was the most dramatic ―probably the most tragic― opera event that had taken place.

In year 2013, we still have the same staging in Ankara Opera House as was initially created by the Italian director Vincenzo Grisosto Travaglini. Director Travaglini does not come to Ankara anymore; he has other opera staging works, other cultural activities in other world opera centers.

On each opera night, Conductor Alessandro Cedrone produces wonderful accompaniment from the orchestra. I have nothing to say for Décor as was prepared by Nihat Kahraman, costumes as were created by Nursun Ünlü. Mrs. Ünlü has designed and prepared wonderful night costumes especially for the Tosca character.

Let's talk about the main characters in the opera. First "Floria Tosca" the beautiful actress on her time in the 1800s. She has come to Rome from Tuscany region of Italy. This character was best portrayed by “Maria Callas” in the past. CDs are still in opera best seller lists. Nowadays, sopranos Fiorenza Cedolins, Angela Gheorghiu and Renee Fleming, are among the best.

This year, Tosca is in the repertoires of Vienna Opera House, LaScala Milan, Munich Bayerische Stadt Opera and New York Metropolitan Opera House. METU Alumni Opera Club has "Opera Night" activity every Thursday night at 20:00 hours to watch a well-known recent Opera DVD. A recent showing was, of course, a wonderful Tosca, from Arena di Verona with Fiorenza Cedolins, Marcelo Alvarez and Ruggero Raimondi and Orchestra and Chorus of The Arena di Verona, under conductor Daniel Oren, recorded in 2006.

Soprano “Feryal Türkoğlu” on the Ankara Opera stage is spectacular in this role. Her voice is intense, lyrical, emotionally balanced, and flawless. Her acting is great. In the first act, she is a beautiful jealous lover in an orange stage dress; helpless, abused, raped woman in the second act, finds the knife on the dining table. With her eyes shining for revenge, she stabs the villainous Baron Scarpia, head of Rome Security Organization, through the heart, and then places the two candlesticks on both sides of the corpse. The spectacular player in her red dress leaves the scene. In the third act, believing that she has saved her lover, who was waiting to die; she joyfully proclaims salvation, however her lover is executed by a firing squad, and then she finally commits suicide after eventually having lost everything, on the castle ramparts with a final outcry for the unfortunate victim.

The newcomer soprano “Seda Aracı” is also acting with a beautiful joyful voice and a distinct pale, hence she brings a different atmosphere to the Ankara Opera stage.

Then there is "Mario Cavaradossi", a painter, and a patriotic character. Earlier, the famous tenor "Ihsan Ekber", later on experienced tenor "Aykut Çınar", and now the new star young tenor "Murat Karahan" have performed in Ankara.

The emotional first act love aria, then in the second act "Damn reign, long live liberty" aria, in the third act "Goodbye" song have left the audience with emotions.

Last but not least; the oppressive evil character “Il Barone Scarpia”, who abuses his authority. A common character in all periods of history.

At the end of the first act, Scarpia aria sung with a choir is the most awesome scene in the history of opera.

Children's choir should be made up of sole children in an opera. My little son, years ago, acted in Tosca, which was then directed by Antonio Pirolli. In the first act, he sung in the children's choir for two seasons. Perhaps that is why I love this opera so much.

Scarpia's evil is in exhibit in the second act. You can witness that abuse of power everywhere and every time. He has dinner with wine at the dinner table, in the meantime he carries out the investigation, torture and rape that has it all. Tosca stabs Scarpia by the end of the second act and he falls on the ground, it was amazing. Dying, but his orders are fulfilled after his death. This reminds spectators of the past and current repressive rulers, all with power abuse.

In this role baritone Eralp Kıyıcı sung many times with a great unbeatable voice. For the last four plays, we have a newcomer Scarpia in Ankara, “Erdem Baydar” who was educated in Germany. His voice will strengthen with time, but he has a different theatrical style, and undertakes an innovative Scarpia. He laughs, ridicules people, takes bribe, orders torture, he has political repression, corruption and extortion. The character behavior is very different. We are very happy that he is in permanent position in the opera administration.

I love villainous characters in opera. They reveal the evil stored up in us. They are telling us how we should avoid them. Everywhere there is always a bad “Scarpia”, in work place, in politics, etc. It is important that we need to deal with them and stop them.

Tosca will be on Ankara Opera House for this season and hope to see in the next year's season in Ankara Opera house stage again.

With deepest regards. Ankara, 20 March 2014


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