Claudio Guarino


Continuing with his methodology of melodrama and reinterpretation, Claudio Guarino has dedicated an exhibition to the century-old opera Tosca. But there was no trace of Puccini’s music, for the artist chose instead to play with the narrative content of the libretto. The show consisted of a ten-minute video, The Kiss of Tosca, and two other works (all 2000) in which the characters in the drama are reduced to two, Tosca herself and the evil Scarpia, played by two extremely talented English actors, Haver Chasen and Terence Brown. Tosca, decidedly older here, asks Scarpia the fate of her lover, Cavaradossi. The nefarious Scarpia reveals that he has imprisoned and tortured him and will free him only if Tosca accedes to his wishes. Tosca apparently accepts, but suddenly stabs and kills Scarpia, at the end murmuring, in English, the famous phrase “and this is the man before whom all the city trembled.” The drama, thus condensed by Guarino, takes on the ambiguity of a fundamentally sexual tragedy by Tennessee Williams, where the protagonist becomes the love-hate relationship between a man and a woman whose lover, marginal to the narrative, is merely the pretext for unleashing that dynamic. The heroic Cavaradossi seems completely extraneous to the entire event, appearing for only a few seconds in which he cries out—from pain or something else?—as he is whipped by a sexy, macho figure dad in leather.

Guarino superimposes a second interpretation on the familiar story, utilizing Brechtian alienation devices. The action is shot in a very narrow, mirror-filled dining room, so that the two actors appear multiplied by their reflections, their glances always falling someplace other than on the partner they are observing. Furthermore, Guarino has used a comuuter to distort Scarpia’s face, which becomes deformed as he speaks, accentuating the grotesque effect of his brief and violent diatribe.

The play of exaggeration that makes the event improbable derives from the critical distance that the artist assumes toward the libretto. Throughout the entire melodrama, in Puccini’s work as well as in Guarino’s video, the pomposity of its rhetoric renders the text dubious, even ridiculous. By way of reminder, in the entrance hall to the show, the name Tosca, written in large Gothic letters made from mirror glass, formed a large and deliberately kitschy bas-relief.

Guarino, who is also a musician, has dissected the “body” of the opera, separating the libretto from the music and emphasizing the distance that separates the rhetoric of the text from the grandiose modernity of Puccini’s score. The only trace of the music in the show was a large C-print, The Rhythm of Tosca (Second Act), 2000, that displayed, in sequence, the performance marks, or verbal directions, that Puccini gave to the various moments of the opera, with expressions (“dolcissimo con grande sentimento,” for example: “very sweetly and with great emotion”) that are as colorful and curious as they are impossible to link to the notes themselves.

Giorgio Verzotti

Transkated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.