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Silence Exile and Crumpets
 
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Monday, March 10th, 2003

Time Event
11:45p
Contains Spoilers
If it wasn't so late, I would probably be watching the last episode of Farscape right now - but I would rather wait for the morning when I am not tired and blissed out. It is the last one, after all - the last time I will ever see a Farscape and not know what happens in it, the one after which we can all make up our own stories about what would have happened to John and Aeryn and D'Argo and Chiana and Scorpius and the rest. And perhaps we will get the TV movie, and perhaps Kemper and the others will at least find a place to tell us the rest of the story in outline.This is some consolation, of course, but not as good as actually getting to see.

I am of course amazingly dumb, because I had not worked out before why Scorpius had the name he has - obviously it is partly to do with the old fable of the scorpion that stings even though it means it will drown, because it is its nature too. Partly too, of course, it has to do with the other thing I was doing this evening - Scorpius is a bit too cognate with Scarpia, when they are both Intelligence chiefs with a taste for torture that spills well over into the sexual, and with a level of craft that ensures they are always ahead of even the tricksiest of heroes and heroines.

Scarpia is the villain - and in some ways the main character - of Puccini's opera Tosca, which I went, more or less unplannedly to see when a friend turned up on my doorstep with a ticket he could not use. The opera starts with a bunch of crashing chords associated with him and the last thing Tosca sings before throwing herself to her death is a curse on him, a summons to appear with her before God. He is one of those baritone roles which sound like warm velvet no matter how evil he is and how much he spits venom and sexual malice. He never really gets a tune of his own - much of his best music is a dissonant interjection to something else, as when he is luxuriating in his lust for the singer Tosca, about to be in his political and sexual power, as a congregation sings a Te Deum. 'Ah Tosca,' he finally sings,'you make me forget God' and then he joins in the big swinging tune of choir and bells and organ. Which is a very cool way to end Act One.

The forty minutes of the second act are pretty much in real time - the first and third play games with time, speeding down and slowing up and their forty minute and half hour spans cover an hour or so each. Act Two is forty minutes during which the artist Mario is tortured for the whereabouts of an escape political prisoner and condemned to death for gloating over a victory by Napoleon and liberalism - not the sort of thing you do in front of a secret police chief with your death warrant in front of him. Tosca tries to buy his life - and Scarpia explains that the currency he will accept from her is not financial. One of the great doublecrosses follows - he orders a fake execution,'like we did with Count Palmieri' (ie not fake at all) and she waits until they are alone and disembowels him with a fruit knife. 'And before him all Rome trembled' she marvels as she lays him out with candles at his feet and a cross on his breast.

And it all ends badly - Mario is brave in front of a firing squad he expects to survive and the henchpersons come for Tosca as she is crying over his corpse and she dives off the battlements. Actually, for all of you who watch a lot of episodic television, it is probably the opera to go for first time - it is pacy and melodramatic in just the way we all love. One of the reasons I love Buffy and Angel is just that - each episode is a bit like the plot of an opera...

Puccini is of course the one operatic composer to have appeared in Buffy - Angelus puts a chunk of La Boheme on Giles' stereo to up the agony of Jenny's death. More importantly, he is probably the composer to whom Beck's underscoring owes most - the Buffy Angel love theme owes much to him in its various versions and the various bits of fight music are remeniscent of things in Butterfly. At the Norwich Buffy Studies conference, I got to chat to the musicologist who is editing a book on the underscore and he confirmed my impression that it is a lot more considered and -well- poncy than is usual in television - as in a Wagner or Puccini opera, characters often have musical themes associated with them and in the Angel score Gunn's theme is actually a variation of Angel's.

This is setting outside moments of real self-indulgence as when, in Earshot, Buffy is agonizing over Angel and Faith and the score quotes a fragment of the love theme and morphs it into a quotation from Dvorak's not especially well-known Othello overture. I almost feel guilty for knowing that.

But not very.

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