I’d like to do a Top 5 of Favourite Opera Kisses, but opera kisses are ephemeral things. Most opera kisses take place on stage with no camera to record them, and a lot of them are not even real, straight-on-the-lips kisses, since opera singers tend to protect their vocal cords by going to great lengths in order to avoid each others’ bacteria-infested mouths, so I don’t have a list of opera kisses to choose from. But there is one opera kiss that stands out to me as the all-time best of its kind. This is, of course, the Scarpia/Tosca kiss of the 1992 on-location Tosca movie.
Best opera kiss ever, according to At the Lighthouse:
(Kissage starts up at 3:35.)
Why is this the best opera kiss ever?
Oh, there are several reasons why. Here they are, bullet-pointed:
- The music. The strings-dominated music that accompanies this kiss is fab. It’s breathtakingly dramatic and beautiful, and yet what do most stagings have Scarpia do here? They have him f-ing write a letter. Sure, it’s the letter that will provide Tosca with a pass to flee Rome along with her death-sentenced Mario, so it’s important to the story, but still. Unless you’re Tatiana in Eugen Onegin, it’s nearly impossible to make letter-writing look dramatic. So I always felt that by having Scarpia kiss Tosca passionately here, director Brian Large fulfilled a potential that the music always had, and I love that. And as Large’s Tosca shows there’s still plenty of time for Scarpia to write his document after the kiss.
- The sexual tension. To me it’s crucial that Tosca be a love triangle, rather than simply the story of two lovers fighting an evil, lustful tyrant. Taking place in Rome in June 1800, Tosca is all about times of political change; Mario represents the rebels, Scarpia the established power, and the way I see it, Tosca, representing the things that both parties want (love, art, beauty, popularity), should waver somewhere in between these two instances. Her heart belongs to the rebels, but one would be simplifying the story if one overlooked the fact that Tosca is very much in the pocket of the establishment. They deliver her paycheck. She sings at their victory parties. They appreciate her, and she knows and likes this.
And I think as much should be illustrated via the love triangle by a vague attraction on Tosca’s part towards Scarpia. It’s a balancing act, certainly, because you don’t want it to veer off into rape-victim-totally-asked-for-it territory, but it should be there. And in the kiss in the 1992 Tosca it is so totally there. Scarpia may be the aggressive one, but Tosca is obviously at least somewhat into it, all gaspy and swooning.
Again, it’s a balancing act, and I would never want to see Tosca openly lusting for Scarpia, but this ambiguously reciprocal kiss is just subtle enough for the latent attraction between the Diva and the Establishment to work.
- Ruggero Raimondi. Hot. Hot. Raimondi’s ability to look at a woman like he wants to devour her goes unparalleled in opera as well as any other performing arts and is surpassed only by his ability to raise a single eyebrow suggestively. In fact, to have Raimondi play Scarpia and not have him kiss Tosca passionately is a missed opportunity (are you listening, Benoît Jacquot?. Angela Gheorghiu could, as Han Solo once put it, “use a good kiss”.)
So, in conclusion, are you saying that this is in fact the perfect opera kiss?
No, no, not at all. It’s not romantic in the least, so if you’re after that sort of thing, this kiss is no good. And Catherine Malfitano annoys me to no end. Her acting is way over the top (she is a perfect example of over-doing of the Tosca-Scarpia attraction, for instance. Why the hell would Tosca start groping Scarpia’s man-boobs* like she does at 3:16? The guy just tried to rape her, like, two seconds ago!), and I don’t even think she has a very attractive voice. But the kiss has enough redeeming qualities, as listed above, to make up for these minor flaws, I’ve been drooling over it since I was a teenager, and chances are I’m never going to get tired of it.
* I do not really mean to say that Ruggero Raimondi has man-boobs. I have nothing but love for Ruggero Raimondi. Marry me, Ruggerone!