Tosca by Puccini
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In our enlightened day and age, we know all about sexual harassment. We know, for example, that it comes in any number of forms. On one end of the spectrum, there's the long and unfortunate tradition of off-color jokes told within earshot of everyone at the office or the party. You know, that way you can smirk at the reactions of people you already know to take offense at that kind of stuff. Of course, harassment and the attitudes that spark it often cause far more serious consequences. How many job applicants have gotten to the interview stage only to be denied a position because they're married or might become pregnant; because they've got kids that might be a distraction to their professional lives; or because they responded honestly to the interviewer's not-so-subtle advances or innuendos.
Sure, we've made some modest progress on these issues in recent years -- like occasionally admitting the problems actually exist. And sure, we still have a long way to go. But geez, we don't often run into examples of harassment quite so extreme as what the title character in this week's opera endures. The opera is Puccini's Tosca, and the character in question is a beautiful diva. She's got a boyfriend, whose radical politics have gotten him arrested by the Police Chief. Naturally, the Chief is a guy with an eye on Tosca. So, the loathsome Chief calls Tosca to his office and gives her a choice: "Either let me have what I want, right here and now, or your left-leaning boyfriend will be shot at dawn." That's right, shot. As in, "dead as a doornail." (Nowadays, there may be a lot of smarmy authority figures, but not many of them have their own, personal firing squads handy.)
In the opera, Tosca thinks she has found a solution. She gets the rogue cop to promise leniency for her beau in return for her own promise to do exactly as the cop wants. Then, just as this lecher thinks he's about to get his way, she cuts his throat. Talk about a letdown. Of course, he gets his revenge even after he's dead; things don't turn out as he said they would. But we can't help but feel that vengeance tends to be a bit unsatisfying when you're "choking on your own blood," which is the fate Tosca arranges for her tormentor.
Anyway, we got to thinking about what might have happened if a young woman had similar problems today. Could she have sued the guy? Had him arrested? If she went ahead and killed him, could she have gotten off? So, we called attorney Don Frantzen and on this week's show, he'll tell us what legal recourse a modern-day Tosca might have had at her disposal. Also on the program, host Lou Santacroce speaks with soprano Martina Arroyo about Puccini's complicated title character. Then, regular guest Thomson Smillie leads us through the music, and explains why Puccini's score for Tosca is considered one of the most intense in any opera. That's At the Opera, half-an-hour before curtain at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, from NPR.
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