Opera Meets Film: For Love & Motherland – the Glorious Ideals of ‘Tosca’ and ‘Stalingrad’By John Vandevert
Following the signing of the Moscow Declarations in October 1943, an international agreement between the four key allied powers—China, Soviet Union, United States, and United Kingdom— formed to defeat the Tripartite Pact and restore global peace by proxy; Stalin would issue an emphatic, jingo-hawk address only a month later. Speaking at the 26th Anniversary of the October Revolution Celebration Meeting in Moscow, Stalin reflected upon the Red Army’s rising military status over the past three years and continued successes at countering the “German invader” and their ill-advised attempt at the “plundering of Europe.” In sycophantic intrepidity before a hypnotized crowd, the Dear Father appealed to three common strains: the historical record, namely the martial failures of the German army and their naive expectations; the national struggle, which was presented as zealous pride in the wherewithal of the Soviet party and her people; and the global fraternity, which was the unified resolve of the “Anti-Hitlerite Coalition.” However, his ironic animosity towards the iniquities of the “fascist hordes,” effervescent confidence in the Communist Utopia and her people’s (often involuntary) industrial spirit, and praise of the universal resolve ‘to strike joint blows against the enemy’ was only made possible by two events. One was the Moscow Declarations, the other forms the body of this article. The event of interest was the now-infamous Battle of Stalingrad.
This was a six-month-long engagement in 1942-1943 against an attempted Nazi invasion of Stalingrad (now Volgograd). This invasion had been a bold venture, and one that had to end in victory to facilitate Hitler’s simultaneous expedition to overtake the southwestern oil depots at Baku, Azerbaijan. The drive to take the oil depots had served as the catalyst for opening up the city, and what had been considered by German command as an easy additional victory, simply rolling over the city which bore their great enemy’s name on their way to Baku, had been resisted with an unexpected fervor that had brought the German southern advance to a standstill. Stalin could not let the city with his name fall, and now Hitler could not allow the Russians to retain it, and a casual conquest became an obsession which saw the German dictator redirect forces from the strategically crucial push through the Caucuses to instead take the city. Later, Stalin spoke in Moscow where he gave every reason to be proud of the Red Army: they had resisted the Nazis despite a catastrophic loss of life, and Hitler, in redirecting his forces from their targets in the oil fields to conquer the city, had crippled his own army. The Wehrmacht had lost men, access to vital petroleum resources, and their strategic advantage. From this moment forward until the unconditional surrender of Germany in 1945, when the Red Army marched triumphantly through the streets of Berlin, the German army was fighting a defensive war.
Located 12 hours from the current capital and 19 from the former, Volgograd, also known as “Hero City,” has become an industrial municipality whose patriotic ebullience manifests not only in the real—the city is home to the notable 279 foot-tall “The Motherland Calls” statue, a maternal reminder of Russian fearlessness—but in the hyperreal. In 2013, a constituency-led petition was crafted to return the city to its pre-Khrushchevian nominal status. Khrushchev, as a part of his “De-Stalinisation” of the Soviet Union in the 1950s and ’60s, had removed Stalin’s name from the now-renowned city, renaming it “Volgograd,” which humbly means “City on the Volga.” No such return to the name of Stalin has yet officially occurred. Was this bid to move back in time serendipity, a fluke in the temporal lineage? Not in the slightest, and the cinematic legacy of the battle supports this thought.
First immortalized on the post-war silver screen during the pathetically ideological reigniting of the Soviet film industry in the late ’40s, the infamous battle would see itself cinematized over and over again. At first axiomatically by the Soviets (1949), then by Germans in the retort (1959), then by the Soviets three more times (1972, ’75, ’77) before the Union’s dissolution would spark a joint project between the two powers (1990). But it is the post-Soviet chronology that is more revealing. Something inspired the Germans to retell the narrative (1993), which, rather than provoking a Soviet response, Russia being preoccupied at the time with its internal problems, prompted a French angle (2001). An outsider looking into the caustic period, “Enemy at the Gates” sparked justified controversy for its historical impropriety from both sides of the bloody meridian. It would take 12 years before Russia would answer this flummox with their movie ‘Stalingrad,‘ directed by Fyodor Bondarchuk.
The rather love-sodden film, “Stalingrad” was produced in September of 2013, following Vladimir Putin’s contested third-term reinstatement as president in 2012 and the decision to utilize Volgograd’s pre-Khrushchevian moniker for Victory Day and five other events related to the Battle of Stalingrad. The contemporized cinematic protraction of this fateful event, one that genuinely won the Great Patriotic War (as the Second World War is known in Russia), is not just another box-office, exoticized foreign war film or propagandized, 1984-induced tirade( see ‘The Green Berets’ (1968) for that.)
Instead, “Stalingrad” eschews hyper-patriotism for a human edge, made palpable in one particular scene, where Puccinian—but decidedly not Italian—bravado reduces even the hardest psyche while visuals of abject soldiers and two women in vastly different stations, surrounded by bohemian squalor, attempt to “keep the stove lit,” as Rodolpho et al once so feverishly attempted. Let us take a journey into the realm of verismo incarnate.
Before diving into the scene at hand, a short description of both the opera and film is helpful here to understand the connections that are being drawn between the harrowing tribulations of Sardou’s damned singer Floria Tosca, and the anteriorly exclaimed Russian tenor-turned-talented sufferer Nikoforov.
An extensive retelling of “Tosca’s” plot can be found here, but I will provide a brief overview below.
Beginning with Puccini’s dynamic portrayal of sensuous conviction and religio-spiritual autonomy, which by extension showcases the fetters of sociopolitical regulations and the quintessential, operatic embodiment of “amour tragique,” his fifth opera, “Tosca,” has become the archetypal verismo opera for its dramatic candor, both musically and narratively. Composed in the late 1890s in association with the rising, verity-laced aesthetics and organicism of the “Giovane Scuola”—a reactionary movement hand-in-hand with the Parisian Fin-de-Siecle’s vein of cynical romanticism—this quasi-Wagnerian, though not-yet-Verdian, melodramatic marvel illuminates the significant problem of religious zealotry.
Much of the plot of “Tosca” revolves around such matters—but a more abstract notion of dedication to the “glorious ideal.” This creates a direct correlation to “Stalingrad” (the 2013 movie, though one could argue the event it memorializes was replete with such notions as well). Concepts like wishful thinking, the “Nirvana fallacy”—which is the concept of the perfect answer to imperfect questions—unavoidable predeterminism, and the paradox of free will from both a theological/sociopolitical standpoint, are all at play within Puccini’s Sacro-secular composition.
It is a beautifully tragic story revolving around a painter Cavaradossi and his love for Tosca—embedded in the cacophonic liminalities of the War of the Second Coalition (1798-1802). This was Napoleon’s attempt to restore and expand Francophile monarchism, and this emotional tenor of certainty can be felt throughout the opera. let us proceed to the third act of this harrowing eulogy to the universal enigma that is human desire. At this point in the narrative, Cavaradossi has been jailed for questioning and has faced torture and been sentenced to (mock) death, Tosca has killed Scarpia in an antithetically pious fashion, and Angelotti has escaped.
As the ringing of the Castel del’Sangelo bells resounds in a perfect parallel of the dusky, prescient resuscitations of the orchestral citizenry, Puccini intones Cavaradossi’s fate, Scarpia’s soon-to-be posthumous treachery, and Tosca’s blood-soaked virginhood. The caressing beatitudes of the bows, the lush response of the cellos, woodwinds intertwining from their treble perch, and the gradating of simple rhythmic graciousness, imbue you with a sense of breathing hope. Or rather, idyllic hope: an homage to the presiding theme of “dedication to the glorious ideal.” An essential trait of verismo opera.
As Puccini’s Act Three prelude’s tenor deepens into solemnity, the final tolls of the bells anticipating the lamentations of Cavaradossi’s impending “Letter scene,” a marvelously modern-sounding, proto-Sibeliusian string quartet (listen to Op.56 Mvt. 1 for a better idea of this) diffusing the accumulated gravitas with their quasi-stretti voices and emotionally restrained yet profound floridity, serves as the introduction to an epitaph to one of life’s two real pleasures, God and love, in “Lucevan Le Stelle.”
In this short yet impactful aria, spanning just over three minutes, with three strophic iterations of three themes, Cavaradossi reminisces on Nature’s sublimities—”And the stars were shining, And the earth was scented”—his fortuitous acquaintance with Tosca—“Fragrant, she entered, And fell into my arms” —his pitiful separation from the life he once knew—”While feverishly I stripped the beautiful form of its veils! Forever, my dream of love has vanished.” While the aria does exemplify Puccini’s economical mastery of rhapsodic pageantry, in discussing his opera to his publisher he said: “I see in this ‘Tosca’ the opera I need, with no overblown proportions, no elaborate spectacle, nor will it call for the usual excessive amount of music.” When one considers this point the tenor who delivers this scene must become Cavaradossi. Not embracing the character so much as the turbulent mindset, as the technical difficulties of endurance and repetitiousness seek to pull the unprepared tenor away from what needs to be a self-consuming reconditioning of purpose three times over (listen to Pavarotti, 2009).
Utilizing a rather cerebral and characteristically mournful framing narrative, the movie begins well after the battle of Stalingrad, in the wake of the massive Tōhoku tsunami in 2011. This natural disaster devastated the eastern coast of Japan following a magnitude 9 earthquake and took on a whole new sinister light after it triggered the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The final toll was billions of dollars of damage and the confirmed loss of nearly 20,000 lives, with another 2,600 still missing. For historical comparison, that is about 14 percent of Germany’s casualties during the Battle of Stalingrad (147,200) and 0.0002 percent of the collective casualty count of World War Two (70-85 million). While it may not be considered much within this context, to overlook or normalize human tragedy must be avoided, lest Churchill’s foreboding 1948 anecdote that those who “fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it” be realized.
The film takes a unique approach in retelling the story, one that no other film, Soviet or otherwise, has done in the conflict’s cinematic lineage. The main story, set during the bloody winter siege, is an extended flashback that justifies the protagonist’s relationship to both the glorious and brutal past conflict and the situation at hand, where the narrator is a Russian first responder providing aid in the aftermath of the tsunami. In the chaos and carnage of the earthquake’s devastation, two young German exchange students have become trapped under the rubble of fallen debris. To calm them and relate to them while awaiting rescue, our narrator, called Sergey, shares with the two girls—who serve as surrogates for the audience—a harrowing story of how he came to have five fathers during the Battle of Stalingrad: how something so beautiful as love and survival was found in a place of death and destruction. In doing so the audience is launched back in time to the battle, where we meet a young and different Sergey who, although he does not yet know it, will conceive the narrator of this story during his privations in Stalingrad. The movie operates with a Wagnerian modality; that is, it is based around five “episodes” or “movements.”
A thorough plot summary can be found here, but I will paraphrase what has occurred in the preceding two movements.
Following preliminary attacks on Stalingrad in the inaugural moments of the war in November of 1942, a group of Russian soldiers take refuge in an abandoned apartment building overlooking a square that has been turned into the frontline. Among them is young Sergey, a drafted spotter, and the tenor Nikiforov, who was once an all-star singer and has now become a bestial soldier. A girl called Katya is discovered still living in the burnt-out ruin of the building – the two befriend her quickly.
The story then switches to the German perspective, where a decorated but disheartened officer has fallen in love with a Soviet woman named Masha due to her uncanny resemblance to his wife. Another official then arrives and censures the lovers and the officer’s failure to eradicate the Russians. He sets a gruesome example of what must be done by rounding up Russian civilians in the square and executing them.
This angers the Red Army soldiers, and a fight breaks out. Both sides retreat for the night, but during the night, Chavanov, a Russian sergeant whose hatred for the Germans stems from their execution of his entire family, teaches Katya to shoot by aiming at a German private filling a water bottle across the square. She accidentally fires, killing him, and thus begins another firefight. It is in the chaos of this new battle that our scene begins, as from among the ash and dust of the previous conflict, a birthday arises. This is a mollifying respite from the immense suffering that comprises their immediate reality.
Now, it is Katya’s 19th birthday, a chronological mile marker that designates a young individual’s full embrace of adulthood and her, albeit involuntarily, entry into the mature realms of effeminacy/masculinity and readied sexual virility. As part of her celebration, she’s bestowed luxuries of both tangible and intangible variety, including sweets, sonorous temporalities, and hot water for bathing. It is here that Nikoforov is introduced. It is discovered that he and Katya were already acquaintances. This is but one micro-instance of “dedication to the glorious ideal”: the rediscovery of old friends and nostalgic anecdotes of a history that has deserted the present conditions but lives on in its silver-tongued majesties. The very act of Nikorofov’s somber serenade and the mesmerized observers’ gazes is here treated as both an a priori luxury, understood by all as a fleeting escape from the brutishness that lies just outside the moment, and an a posteriori nanosecond in the conceivable continuum of circumstances.
This area, an anachronistic artifact of a better time, is but a fleeting eulogy that, in reality, cannot and will not change the future, which will continue to be bloodshed and brutality. It is, however, the entire world for those experiencing its ineffability in the moment. The entire scene itself takes on the visage of a truly symphonic reconstruction of one’s surroundings and psychological dispositions through intonational and cinematographic noise. Nikoforov the once-lauded singer-turned-domestic refugee, expels his dramatic petitions. His performance is, however, rather boxy, inert, and repetitious, to the accompaniment of a solitary piano. At the same time, his shambled, dehumanized enemy, German Captain Kahn extols his dramatic petitions from the filthy, rodent-infested basement. “Damned Country, Damn War, Damn Building,” he yells, as the reverberated, scattered harmonies of Nikoforov float across the city square and reach him as ancillary mocking of his already deranged status as a renowned commander-turned-foreign refugee.
Having now briefly introduced both plots, I want to more closely examine the scene and investigate what it can tell the viewer not only about the aria’s placement therein but its relation to the construct of “equilibrium,” “conflict,” and “resolution”—the quintessence of all musical form—as it relates to verismo.
In 2019, Opera de Paris’ Simon Hatab interviewed director Pierre Audi and philosopher Dr. Henri Peña-Ruiz, a specialist in secularism, to discuss Audi’s interpretations of the prevailing themes within his 2019 staging of “Tosca”; that being the tenuous relationship of political dogma, religious dominion, and the collusive parallels therein. As Audi remarks, “the opera has the ability at revealing the historical truth of the Italian cultural milieu that surrounded Puccini: the religious (ideologically trapped) and political (involuntarily trapped) stuck together in an irresolute paradox.” It is helpful to remember that up until the 1860s and the commencement of Unification (“Risorgimento”), Italy had been under the control of three kingdoms and the notorious Papal States. At the same time, until around 1814, the “Bel Paese”—a nickname for Italy meaning “Beautiful Country”—had been subjected to Francophone, Napoleonic leadership. Concerning religious domination and its fall, by the 1860s and the announcement of Italy’s Unification, the Italian Papacy, which had once controlled a large swathe of northern Italy, had been drastically reduced. Furthermore, once Rome was captured in 1870, Italy’s putrefaction under the constraints of Papal dictatorship as part of the Holy See was finished. But like all good dictatorships, Catholicism’s power survived by taking on different forms, partnering with Anti-Clericalists to rebuke the growing Socialist movement during the Fin-de-Siecle (keep in mind “Tosca” was written in 1890-1900), and again under Mussolini in 1929 when Vatican City was christened and certain privileges administered to the neo-Papal dynasty. To cap this brief historical recount off, the Catholic, religious, a foothold in Italy is just as strong today, in 2021, as it was then. The Catholic vote in Italy is regarded as the cornerstone of all electoral victories in Italy. Thus, to succeed in politics, you must appease the Romano-Catholic sensibility.
Puccini’s “Tosca” is a direct corollary to this fraught chronology, exemplifying the disastrous inculcation of one’s “dedication to the glorious ideal” with the toxic malady of political influence. As Audi puts the dichotomy, “one which falls within the scope of personal faith and hope, and the other which is based on exploiting religion and using it as a tool of domination and oppression.” Put differently by Kansas City Opera, because Puccini had been baptized, just like Verdi, his protestations were not against religion as a construct but its association with power. “It is not Christianity or religion in general that comes under attack, but rather the corruption of religion by the Church.” On a fundamental level, the entire cinematographic scene, like the aria and larger opera itself, can be simplified into a solitary theme, that of power relationships and the ownership of the authentic narrative or truth: what Nietzsche refers to as the philosophy of “truth at any price” and what Foucault calls the “regime of truth.” Cavaradossi’s entreaties to relive his blissful truth; the soldiers’ and Katya’s defensive merriment lest they give in to their pitiful fates (but Katya is destined to die in Stalingrad); Khan and Masha’s dehumanized posture as wartime subalterns (they too shall both die); and more minutely, linguistic nationalism and musical colonialism through not only the usage of Italian music but the transliteration of the lyrics from Italian to Russian. Innocuous? Maybe, but these factors prove that our Tosca is dead.
What do I mean by that “our Tosca is dead?” To answer this, I want to look specifically at the relationships and individual narratives in the aria and this “third episode” of “Stalingrad” to comprehend further the impact that Bondarchuk’s choice of using Cavaradossi’s aria has, and how it directly showcases the historical power that the verismo movement holds. I believe Verismo to be a reactionary movement against the highly-ostentatious parables of Verdi and the allegorical music-dramas of Wagner. Verismo realness refocuses both musical, emotional, and psychological attention back onto the fallible landscape of the human condition through collaborative, orchestral—all parties contributing to the greater whole—dramaturgy, as opposed to reinforced or theatrical dramaturgy—bodacious displays of musical and visual effect, to elicit observational wonder.
Cavaradossi’s Aria in Stalingrad
In a gruesomely ironic fashion that the medium of film does so well, the scene and battle-scarred expressions of commemorative nostalgia, including the aria, inadvertently encloses the demise hiding around the corner for all involved. However, and this is a point vital to the comprehension of the aria’s in-scene usage. Bondarchuk only includes the second stanza of the aria, choosing to begin with the archetypal, post-romantic lamentations on lost love from a heavily stripped-back perspective, removing the first stanza and its evocative strains of wistful passion for his Eve among the aromatics and starshine of Eden. The language is indicative of a religious hymnal—”Creaked the gate of the garden—and at the same time the sensually intimate yet modest allusions also suggest breathless intentions—Fragrant, she entered and fell into my arms.” This missing quatrain is made up for in beautiful gazes shared while Nikoforov sings, first between Katya and Sergeant Chavanov, the intrepid anti-German whose family had been slaughtered by them, and then again between Katya and Junior Lieutenant Sergey Astakhov, a baby-faced fledgling to the world of warfare, although their moony glances are seen by Polyakov, who has become embittered due to his family being killed in an air raid. Further, as the camera descends into the building’s bowels to reveal the abandoned German Kahn and his treasonous Russian lover Masha, who hopelessly reiterates like a despondent ostinati “What will I do now?,” we faintly hear the lines “That moment has fled, and I die in desperation, and I die in desperation!” revealing the inconvenient truth of war and of mortality itself. In some way, Puccini was Bondarchuk’s only option for this scene.
The last question that seems relevant, given the conflict’s tumultuous and rather complicated cinematic lineage along with the pervading historical revisionism that comprised much of Soviet Russia’s epistemic philosophy, is: Why did Bondarchuk choose to showcase this gruesome war of beliefs in such a humanistic, person-first way? Unlike the other films, the war narrative is a secondary clause to a greater, more pressing, moralistic tale. Are we to ascertain that by using Puccini’s “Tosca,” a revealing allegory for the corruption of mind and spirit by those forces insatiable in their appetites for power, we are being asked to reevaluate our understanding of the seemingly innocuous binary of winner versus loser and victor versus victim, in the context of war? I believe so, and the answer lies in Bondarchuk’s own words, along with peering into the way death itself is conceived. In summation, dedication to the glorious ideal is not a finished product nor a promise of what Utopia will look like; the whole premise of Socialist Realism, which has been a pernicious obstacle to genuine creativity, is a direct analog to this particular scene. In a 2014 article for the Irish Times, Bondarchuk expressed that the film’s more contemporary qualities: the continual scene developments, balances of emotional narratives and action, off-screen resonance, and followable narrative, made with the intention of appealing to a younger, more cosmopolitan audience. To educate the youth of today, he wanted to reformat and accommodate a lesson the operatic could learn.
Bondarchuk writes “In our country, the theme of World War Two is considered old fashioned. Russian audiences are typically between 15 and 23 years old. They’re young. They’re free. They’ve grown up on international cinema. My dream was to create a new kind of picture and dialogue around a subject that seems conservative for them. For me, it was a type of experiment.”
Having previous training in Russian straight acting and an intimate one-to-one relationship with the politically entrenched realm of Soviet cinema, he came to fully understand the realities of contemporaneously retelling historical events for both domestic and foreign audiences. Another poignant article, this time by Vokruk TV written in 2012, before the film’s release, revealed one of the main themes that I have alluded to and that this “Episode Three” so expertly conveyed universalism. Bondarchuk took it further, however, noting one detail that I have not touched upon yet, “how to die with dignity if you are destined to die.”
Operas, especially Puccini operas, are notorious for their heart-wrenching death scenes, where those with pure hearts are subjected to a demise considerably antithetical to their moral and ethical station. Mimi, the fated heroine from “La Boheme” and Violetta in “La Traviata” who both die much too young from Tuberculosis. And then there is Liù (Timur’s servant from “Turandot”) who is tortured until she is forced to commit suicide, Butterfly (Cio-Cio-san from “Madame Butterfly”) and her tragic death, and yet again with Manon (from “Manon Lescaut”) with her piteous death.
It is easy to unintentionally dehumanize the personalities you see on screen when it comes to war movies, distancing their cinematic persona with the real-life, flesh-and-blood person who filled that identity so many years ago. With every attempt at retelling historical narratives of bloody proportions, a director must always put humanity in the driver’s seat. Bondarchuk echoes this necessity with great integrity: “We [his team] all have one common question that worries us: how it was possible at all to admit what happened in Stalingrad. This is what our film is about.” He clarified this statement by saying that not many are familiar with the event currently, nor are they privy to the actual events that transpired. For example, when German troops entered Stalingrad, they initially were on constant rotation. Thus, they were never able to acclimate themselves to the Soviets and forever saw them as foreign, dehumanized enemies in need of extermination. Less than people, not quite animals. This then leaves the truth in a state of liminality. Who owns the narrative of what happened, and is there ever a winner in all of these gruesome scraps and fracas?
Even operatically, even though Turandot manages to find love, does she actually love? In “Tosca,” she considers only true love—that is, untampered religiosity—ostensibly after her final act of absolution, jumping off the Castel’s parapet. This act of suicide and final thunderous line, met in fierce orchestral accord and accompanied by Cavaradossi’s sorrowful leitmotif, is now intrepid in its delivery: “O Scarpia, avanti a Dio!” More could be said about the ownership of narrative, both historically and personally, but suffice to say that in the scene, the aria speaks of the silently screaming subtext where all the answers are before you, but you must see them. Not see, but truly see. Analogous to verismo, Puccini was a dramatic pietist. An actual man of the people.
In Stalin’s 1942 speech at the 25th Anniversary of the October Revolution, the speech happening within days of the Battle of Stalingrad, he laid out three goals for the Red Army and the Soviet nation. They were 1) “destroy the Hitlerite State and its inspires,” 2) “destroy Hitler’s army and its leaders,” and finally 3) “destroy the hated New Order in Europe and to punish its builders.”His faith in his halcyon vision of ‘building of socialism in one country” led him to do dreadful things and believe in ghastly rhetoric, all despite the truth that lay in front of him: that he would inevitably end, and so too would his totalitarian dream. Such misanthropic incredulity has no future, no stable present, and indeed no usable past. Thus, his brand of the “glorious ideal” was one of hyper realities and post-truths. For Hitler, we can assume it was the same. His New Order, replete with the racial purity of his so-called “Master Race,” unconscionable loyalty enshrined in the “Führereid” (“Hitler Oath,”) and socioeconomic and military power, were all fed by a singular mission to produce a terrible, dictatorial norm that could never actually sustain itself when realized.
The Battle of Stalingrad was not so much the Red Army versus Wehrmacht, but instead ideology against ideology; a campaign which prevented either side even attempting to conceive that there was a living, breathing human behind the enemy gunfire. It turned soldiers into highly-trained automatons who, when shot or killed or hurt or maimed or abandoned or tortured, did not bleed or feel pain. They became figures on paper and were quietly replaced by the next body. As we know, however, that this was not ever and will never be the truth, and those who fought and died defending and attacking Stalingrad were people who had mothers and fathers, friends and families. They had childhoods, education, ate food in the morning, fell asleep when their eyes began to close. They were people.
The film’s overall form is an exact mimetic of the aria’s form, and a replica of the cyclicality of war itself and the contemporary climate we are currently living in. Cavaradossi’s aria can be described as a variational neo-binary form, in that its grosser form is A-A’, while its interior form is two options, either modified Rondo form or Sonata Rondo form. Why is this significant? The movie’s narrative framework is a “Potpourri” style, consisting of a prologue-five scenes-epilogue (A-BCDEF-A’.) Thus, the movie’s continuously recursive structure produces an ouroboric sense of temporal undoing, as if time has lost its linearity: what has happened before is happening again and will happen again, ad infinitum.
Perhaps that is what makes verismo so uncannily thrilling: audiences are held in a limbic state of narrative comprehension and yet vigilantly look forward to its inevitable arrival. “I know she will die, but I cannot bear to witness it.”
Cavaradossi and Nikoforov both knew that their “glorious ideal” was gone, and yet they chose to sing. Perhaps that’s what we all need to do. Keep going and keep hoping despite the ferocity of the darkness, “Dum anima est, spes esse.”
CategoriesOpera Meets Film