February 10, 1917
Page 3

Famous Metropolitan Baritone Gives the Interviewer a Tabloid Demonstration of the Process by Which He Has Worked Out the Details of Operatic Acting in His Memorable Interpretation of “Scarpia” in “Tosca”—Correlation of the Musical and Dramatic Elements in the Opera’s Tense Second Act

OF all the scenes in grand opera there is none which possesses more concentrated, vivid drama—call it melodrama, if you will—than does the second act of “Tosca.” Of the contributors to that drama the most vital one is undeniably the character of Scarpia. Among the many baritones who have sung this role there has been none who has excelled Antonio Scotti (and who has equaled him?) in the delineation of the part.
It was for these reasons, then, that we sought out Mr. Scotti the other day and asked him to tell us something of the way in which he had coordinated the dramatic and musical elements of the part. We felt that what he would have to say would not only be of interest to students of opera as a profession, but might prove illuminating to opera-goers in general as showing “how the wheels go ‘round” in the mechanism of operatic acting.
Summing up the impressions of our conversation with the noted baritone, we would point out that Scotti’s interpretation of Scarpia is the most perfect type of art in that, without sacrifice of spontaneity, it is so carefully thought out, to the minutest detail. When one listens to the second act of “Tosca,” the various bits of the action dovetail into each other with such absolute naturalness that one never has the slightest feeling that these apparently spontaneous effects have been worked out with such premeditation and care. It is this “art concealing art” that makes Scotti’s Scarpia a model of operatic portraiture.
Changes in Interpretation
Mr. Scotti informed us that his interpretation of the part had undergone many changes since he first started singing it. “I’m rather amused,” said he, “when I think of some of the details in my earlier impersonation, for, of course, an artist’s ideas of a part broaden as his art matures.”
It was Puccini’s wish that Scotti should create Scarpia in the world premiere of his opera, but this was prevented by a misunderstanding between the two men which, although not based upon serious causes, was not cleared up for a long period. It occurred just before Mr. Scotti’s first coming to America, when he had gone to London for some special appearances at Covent Garden. While rehearsing “Bohème” Scotti was awaiting word from Puccini concerning the premiere of “Tosca” in Italy, but in the interchange of congratulatory greetings with the composer following the “Bohème” performance, there was no message from Puccini to Scotti. In the meantime Maurice Grau had been urging Scotti to come to New York, and, not hearing from Puccini, Scotti signed a contract to appear at the Metropolitan.
Thus the première of “Tosca” was given with another baritone, Giraldoni, as Scarpia, and it was not till considerably later, in London, that Scotti first played the part. He attacked the rõle in the same fresh state of mind as if he had been, indeed, creating it as the composer had wished, for he had seen but one performance of the opera, having journeyed to Genoa for the purpose.
The Public as Judge
When Scotti and Puccini finally came together again the baritone learned from the Maestro that the latter’s failure to communicate with Scotti—as he had been expected to do—was due to the troubled condition of his mind in connection with his finishing the composition of “Tosca.’; Puccini had sent the score for the inspection of his publisher, Giulio Ricordi, and the latter had informed him that he liked the opera in general, but felt that the last act “would not do.” Puccini thereupon went to Milan and played over the final act for Ricordi, who, with the added insight into the composer’s interpretation was more favorably impressed with the opera’s closing scene—although not enthusiastic. When it came to the première, however (as Mr. Scotti told us), the first two acts were received in a lukewarm manner by the public, and it was the enthusiasm generated by the last act which made the opera a success.
As has been said, Mr. Scotti’s conception of Scarpia has constantly been broadening since he first undertook the role. In studying the character he has not been content with digging out of the libretto and the music every bit of light that seemed to illumine the action of the sinister Baron—he has gone further back than that. “I do not rely merely on the score,” he informed us, “for I base my interpretation upon Scarpiaas Sardou drew him in the comoedia on which the opera is founded.
“For instance, the irascibility of Scarpia in the second act is not mere bad temper—it is combined with a sheer desperation. In Sardou’s play there are two more acts than the opera contains, and in one of these Scarpia appears before Queen Caroline. She asks him if he has captured Angelotti and he replies that the conspirator has eluded him. In intense anger the Queen then declares that if he does not succeed in apprehending Angelotti, she will remove him from his post as chief of Rome’s police.
The Desperate “Scarpia”
When Scarpia is revealed at the beginning of Act Two in the opera, he has just come from this audience with the Queen and is smarting under her rebuke. Therefore, you must go below the merely superficial to understand the ill temper of Scarpia as I play him in this scene. He is exasperated by the unsatisfactory reports from his agents of their search for Angelotti, and his ruthless treatment of Tosca and Cavaradossi is due not only to the brutality of the man, but to his desperate feeling that he must learn the whereabouts of Angelotti from them or lose his position.
“Again, in my costuming of the part I draw upon Sardou’s play. The music that you hear through the window in the second act comes from the reception of Queen Caroline, which is shown in the comoedia and at which Scarpia has his audience with the Queen. Now, my costume in the second act is what Scarpia wore at this reception, and is the same as the first-act costume, except that I wear a special set of buttons, appropriate to the occasion and to Scarpia’s office, and a jewelled order around the neck, also suited to the character.”
Mr. Scotti is scrupulously exact in all details of costume, properties, etc. “These buttons,” he added, “are entirely correct for the period of the opera, as I have copied them from designs in a collection that I possess. You might think that it was not worthwhile to bother about such details, but if they are noted by only five or six in the audience, I am content, for I feel that I satisfy myself—that is the ·essential consideration.”
A Treatise on the Part
After Mr. Scotti had given us some of his ideas concerning Scarpia he took up his copy of the score and ran hurriedly over most of the action of the second act, showing us how he utilized the stage directions supplied by the authors and supplemented them with his own illuminating contributions. We regret that the inadequacy of cold type prevents our reproducing for you the way in which—now and then with swift play of voice or gesture—he visualized for us the whole scene. If such a reproduction could be made, it would constitute a practical treatise on the interpretation of Scarpia in this act.
Chief of the impressions which we formed from this analysis was that of the skill with which he fills out the pauses where there is no vocal part and where the libretto gives no directions as to Scarpia’s stage business. In each case he showed us how he contrived some action which was natural, logical and entirely within the picture. In one spot, while seated at his table, he sips a glass of wine reflectively. “Or,” he added, “I may brush my lips with the napkin as I sit thinking—different bits in different performances, as the mood dictates. In such a situation, using the same business every time would mean mechanical acting. It is because of this varying the action with the moods that one performance in the part may seem to the audience better than another.”
At another moment, two or three measures of orchestral music find Scarpia walking a few paces along the floor, contemplatively, while a similar pause in the voice part a second later is accompanied with a continuation of the same business—always spontaneous in effect and preserving the continuity of the whole. Further, his movements are so synchronized with the music that it seems as if the composer had written that part of the score as a setting to this very action, and yet it is not in the least mechanical.
Timing the Action
Mr. Scotti is so saturated with the music of the entire opera that he almost sub-consciously times the action to the music. For instance, he fits the business to one orchestral passage so neatly that just as the final note of this passage is played he sinks into a seat with an effect just like that of a period which punctuates a sentence. He is also able, on occasion, to give one of his fellow players a hint as to the exact moment for a particular bit of business. For example, after Tosca has killed Scarpia and when she has returned to the body in order to extract the passport from his clenched fist, the baritone, having nothing to do but lie there, and with his instinctive knowledge of the music, is able to whisper a “Now!” at the exact moment when it will be most effective for Tosca to take the paper.
While speaking of this incident, we might call attention to the thought which Mr. Scotti gives to the physical laws that affect his impersonation. “It is a fact, of course, that when a man is killed, if he has anything in his hand—say a revolver—the contraction of the muscles will cause this to be grasped as if in a vise, but the object can be withdrawn providing that you do so before the blood in the veins is cold. Thus, with Scarpia, the passport can be withdrawn, but after it has been extracted, the arm falls to the stage with a thud.”
One detail in his impersonation that he .changed out of a desire for scientific correctness is at the moment when Scarpia is killed. The law that he observes is that if a person is shot or stabbed in the back he falls backward, while if the blow is received in the front of the body the fall will be forward. “I learned that in South America,” he said, “at a time when I was playing ‘Don Carlos,’ in which, when shot in the back at the prison, I used to fall forward. While discussing the matter with a physician, however, I learned that this was contrary to physical laws.”
Obeying Physical Laws
Therefore, when Scarpia is stabbed in the breast he falls forward, then clutches at Tosca’s dress and finally pulls himself up to the sofa. “When it comes to toppling from · the sofa,” says Mr. Scotti, “I realize that it will look better from the audience’s point of view if I do not lie with my face to the stage, so I contrive that the impetus of the fall shall make me roll over completely until I lie flat on my back.”
In developing the action of Scarpia Mr. Scotti makes it a point to keep his figure· always in the proper perspective so that it does not prevent the others in the picture from standing out in their rightful importance. An example of this is his business just preceding the dramatic entrance of Tosca which leaves him with his back to the audience and gazing at the door at which she enters, thus leading logically up to her entry and focusing all the attention upon her.
The most difficult problem of the baritone in this respect is to maintain a legitimate sequence of action during Tosca’s singing of the “Vissi d’Arte” without taking the attention away from the aria. When she begins this prayer, which Puccini has interpolated at the height of the melodrama’s movement, Scarpia, bending over her at the sofa, is stopped at the climax of his passion for the possession of Floria. During the first moments of the aria Scarpia is regaining his normal state of calm; he then readjusts the niceties of his attire, and next he walks back unobtrusively to the door, where he peers out to see if anyone approaches. As Tosca had threatened to jump out of the window, he next closes that, and finally seats himself at the table, regarding her at the close of the prayer as much as to say, “Well, what does it matter? She is mine, anyhow.”
Study of Psychology

Scotti’s Scarpia is a perfect example of one phase of dramatic art requisite for “getting under the skin” of a rôle—namely, the gift for analyzing the psychology of the character from all sides. This is shown in the early part of the act when Scarpia reassures her with sedulous politeness.” “Scarpia is a strongly vicious man,” says Scotti, “and he has felt a great desire to possess Tosca ever since he watched her distress in the church scene. Thus, I add the touch of his inviting her to remove her cloak, and as he helps her off with it, the first sight of her decolleté beauty inflames him with passion.”
Thus the noted baritone emphasizes the feeling of desire which, along with that of desperation, is the keynote of Scarpia’s actions during this tense scene, which runs the gamut of almost all the emotions in drama. —KENNETH·S. CLARK


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