Tre sbirri, una carozza. I just have to hear those few words and I come over all faint. There was no question that Scarpia's Te Deum from Puccini's Tosca would be my nomination for 'Most Powerful Aria.' It's probably my most favourite aria ever, to be honest. I'm a sucker for anything dramatic and powerful, and this heady mixture of sex and religion always has me reaching for a fan....
Picture the scene. Baron Scarpia, Chief of Police, could have pretty much anything he wants- 'E avanti a lui tremava tutta Roma!' Tosca says ('All Rome trembled before him!') but it's not enough. He desires Floria Tosca, girlfriend of the revolutionary artist Mario Cavaradossi, and he's determined to go to any lengths to get his hands on her. Having already planted the seed of jealousy in Tosca's mind (he convinces her that Cavaradossi is having an affair with the Marchessa Attavanti) he is left alone in The Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle. Through this aria, he lays out the rest of his plans for Tosca and Cavaradossi ('One to the gallows, the other in my arms!') and his unrequited passion for the opera singer spills over into his religious zeal. He sings 'Tosca, mi fai dimenticare Iddio!' ('Tosca, you make me forget God!') before joinging in the Te Deum of the chorus, who have now entered to begin the prayer.
I have mixed feelings about Scarpia. I know he would be high up on most people's list of operatic villains, but I have to admit to being a little stirred by the power of his sexual attraction to Tosca, and the fact that he's prepared to do anything to have her 'Caught in (his) arms, smouldering with love!' (I know, I know- he would have cast her aside as soon as he'd conquered her...) He's a very compelling character, though- what drives the anger, the lust and the religious fervour, and how to portray a role as complex as this?
There are so many great Scarpia's out there. There's the cold and calculated, the raw animal, and everything in between. I was brought up on Ruggero Raimondi. I love Tito Gobbi. But I adore Bryn Terfel. His delivery of the lines about Tosca smoulder with sensuality, and there's a power to his performance that comes from his acting talent as much as his size. Seeing him perform this aria twice at the Royal Opera House in July was a dream come true, but until clips of that performance become available, we'll have to make do with this.