The Quantum of Tosca

‪I recently fell down a rabbit hole researching the use of Puccini’s Tosca in the 2008 James Bond movie Quantum of Solace. I was made aware of this connection only recently by someone I follow on Twitter. Personally, I am not a big James Bond fan and my adolescent interest in this “super spy” wained not long after Roger Moore‘s retirement. However, learning that a fairly recent Bond movie incorporated key scenes from Tosca certainly peaked my interest.

The “Tosca sequence” from Quantum of Solace.

The performance used in the movie comes from the 2007 production of Tosca at the Bregenz Opera located on Lake Constance in Austria. The stage is a “floating stage” that sits literally on Lake Constance. In this sequence, Bond is an unseen force lurking within the depths of the opera house. He eavesdrops on a conversation among the Quantum people who played a role in the blackmailing (and ultimately death) of his beloved Vesper Lynd, Bond’s love interest from the previous movie, Casino Royale. (QoS is a continuation of CR with the action starting 5 minutes after CR’s closing credits.) Bond taunts them over their headsets, which forces them to flee in a panic. Bond pursues the Quantum gentlemen into a violent gun battle as scenes from Tosca are interspersed, culminating with the the bloody stabbing of the villain Scarpia by the title character, Floria Tosca.

On the surface, QoS’s director, Marc Forster, appears to be paying “homage” to the Albert Hall scene from Hitchcock’s 1956 version of “The Man Who Knew Too Much” with James Stewart and Doris Day. (My first impression was confirmed when I read a published 2008 interview with Forster who admitted as much.) This scene is arguably Hitchcock’s finest cinematic moment, and like Tosca in QoS, the big choral number builds up to a suspenseful climax. The music in both sequences are used as liminal Greek Chorus to augment the reality on the screen.

The Albert Hall scene from Hitchcock’s 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much

Hitchcock’s Albert Hall Scene was actually a remake of his own 1934 version with a “Cantata” being composed specifically for both films. The 1934 version is equally stunning, but in the 1956 version, Hitchcock’s 20+ years of additional film making experience shows the master director at the zenith of his film making powers as he conjures up one of the seminal moments in all cinema.

Referring to the 2008 interview, Forster describes his vision behind the Tosca sequence: “. . . and then I saw the opera set and the eye reminded me of Bond and it was blue and I always loved the influence of Hitchcock on the Bond films—the early Bond films—and that was “The Man Who Knew Too Much” certainly popped in my head. . . I thought Tosca was a parallel to our story and so I could have the opera and him and then go into this sort of Mexican standoff dream-like action sequence . . .”

Marc Forster’s other directing credits include Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction, and World War Z among many other darker psychological or fantastical themed movies. Although his Quantum of Solace ranks among one of the highest grossing Bond films, it seems to have received some of the most derisive and negative reactions from Bond fans and critics. Some die-hard Bondites hated the lack of typical “Bond tropes” like gadgets and catch-phrases.

The atypical “Bond Girl” Camille Montes played by Olga Kurylenko

Instead of the suave, martini sipping womanizer, QoS presents a tormented Bond making his own ascent from the underworld labyrinth. Also hated by some Bondites is the “Bond girl” (Camille Montes) is not the typical one-dimensional piece of eye-candy waiting to be seduced by Bond. Instead, this “Bond girl” has her own backstory and burning desire to administer karmic justice for crimes committed against her family by Medrano and she has a parallel journey with Bond pursuing Dominic Greene.

Although the movie takes the title from Ian Fleming’s original novella, there is little direct resemblance between the novella and Forster’s movie – at least on the surface. However, reading the original novella, one is struck with how banal and “un-Bond-like” Fleming’s QoS is.

Cover to Ian Fleming’s “Quantum of Solace” – the atypical Bond novel.

The entire plot of Fleming’s short story consists solely of a dinner conversation between Bond and the governor of Nassau in the Bahamas. The governor knows why Bond is in the Bahamas and doesn’t like what Bond does or represents. Bond is in the Bahamas to carry out some of this “undesirable business” on behalf of the crown and understands the reason for the governor’s dislike of him. The after-dinner discussion spoken mostly by the governor tells a story about a married couple who go through a divorce as a result of the wife’s affair and the subsequent cruelty of the husband’s revenge. It is an exploration of the depravity one can go to, once they have lost their humanity and exhausted their last “quantum of solace”. In the course of retaliation and the quest for revenge, one may not appear to have anything to do with the consequences other than being an “instrument” to deliver the karmic retribution.

Camille is the shadow image of Bond and parallels his quest for revenge. But this is not just any type of “petty revenge”. Instead, it is the metering out of Karmic retribution, whereby Bond and Camille are just the instruments to deliver it.

Camille Montes experiences terrible upheaval at the hands of another power-hungry, dictator, General Medrano. Both Bond and Camille seek Dominic Greene as a “gateway” to higher calling. This scene from Quantum of Solace, Camille relates her story to Bond within the depths of a abandoned mine – the underworld. Bond and Camille emerge from the dark underworld into the sunlight, which resembles an ancient version of the Persephone myth where the Hecate, holding two torches, rescues Persephone and guides her back to the enthroned Demeter.

Forster incorporates metaphysical and esoteric references throughout QoS. For example, the 4 major action sequences are each unique to one of the main elements, Air, Water, Earth, and Fire. These elemental “trials” are what Bond must conquer as he progresses through his initiation emerging from his personal underworld labyrinth. Bond’s parallel shadow side, Camille, mirrors his journey and his ascent from the underworld – however having a different final destination.

The Parallels of Tosca and the Dark Lunar Goddess Hecate

A Tosca postcard by Leopoldo Metlicovitz created for the premiere on January 14, 1900. Notice the snake wrapping itself around the left side of the postcard.

Analyzing the sections used in the Tosca Sequence, there is the end of Act 1 known as the “Te Deum” and the climax of Act 2, the death of Scarpia. Both scenes shadow to the drama within QoS. If you look closely at the QoS Tosca clip, it appears that the operatic baritone singing role of the villain Scarpia shares an uncanny resemblance to the QoS villain Dominic Greene.

In the opera, the “Te Deum” is a combination of several streams of consciousness which converge in one lush and haunting scene for baritone (The Baron Scarpia, Chief of Police), other soloists (The Sacristan), (worshippers) chorus, children’s choir, pipe organ, cannon bursts and orchestra. Scarpia’s music is all about his lust for power, his desire to have Tosca’s lover, Cavaradossi, executed and his desire to use Tosca for his own carnal pleasures.

The “Te Deum” scene which ends the first act of Puccini’s Tosca. Scarpia, the Chief of Police for Rome in 1800 soliloquizes over his lust for power and his desire to “conquer” Tosca by using her weaknesses against her. While entertaining these dark thoughts, church parishioners enter to celebrate an apparent defeat of Napoleon’s advancing armies. At the conclusion, Scarpia realizes where he is and proclaims that “Tosca has made me forget God!”

The scene starts with Scarpia instructing his officers to secretly follow Tosca to see if she will lead them to the location of an escaped political prisoner. As the officers depart, Scarpia gets lost in a soliloquy describing his lust for power and for Tosca. As the height of the scene, Scarpia realizes he is literally right in the middle of a church service and he proclaims “Tosca, you have made me forget God!” as he joins the chorus. It is here, Scarpia exhibits his most loathsome trait, that of self-righteous despotism.

And no, neither Puccini nor his librettists included the gratuitous “prisoner execution” as seen in the QoS Tosca sequence – nor did director Forster embellish this for his movie. The prisoner executions were devised by modernist stage director, Philipp Himmelmann, and used in the Bregenz 2007 production.

The second section used in QoS, is the death of Scarpia and wraps up the stark drama of Act II. The clip starts with a tense eeriness in the orchestra which underscores Tosca’s fear, repulsion, torment, and the last quantum of her solace being vanquished. Tosca at this point was forced to watch the torture of her lover with Scarpia laughing at her. Feeling the complete abandonment from God, she reluctantly agrees to Scarpia’s demand of sexual favors to save the life of her lover.

Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi – end of Act 2 – the murder of Scarpia.

The absolute dread of this scene comes to a head when Tosca sees the knife on Scarpia’s dinner table, as the dissonant chord is struck in the Orchestra, Tosca understands what she has to do. This music changes to the gleeful galloping of Scarpia bounding over to Tosca believing he’s just about to enjoy his latest reward of a coerced sexual “conquest”. Unfortunately for Scarpia, he does get his reward alright, but not the one he was anticipating. Tosca grabs the knife and plunges it into Scarpia’s chest proclaiming, “This is Tosca’s Kiss!” Tosca then taunts the dying Scarpia as he cries out for help, reminding him that he has been murdered by the woman he tortured and was just about to rape. This murder of the Chief of Police not just a narcissistic need for revenge, but is a call for the Karmic justice only a deity can provide. Tosca here is the Goddess who must end the reign of this brutal, evil, depraved dictator. As she stands over his dying body, she screams “Die! Goddamn you! Die!” And as he breaths his last breath, she says “He’s dead. Now, I forgive him.”)

A similar scene is in QoS where Camille delivers divine retribution to Medrano, cut with Bond’s “trial by Fire” fight with Greene.

The “Fire” action sequence. Camille killing of the villain Medrano includes a stabbing from shards of glass which reminiscent of Tosca’s killing of Scarpia. This is Karmic retribution for both Scarpia and Medrano.

Contained within the art-form of opera (“Tosca” being a great example), there is a “combining of consciousness” which occurs through the medium of music and sung sacred words or poetry. This combination harkens back to ancient chanting rituals in temple rites or ancient dramas which were designed to affect the collective consciousness. In Nietzsche’s “The Birth of Tragedy” (a book devoted mostly to Wagnerian propaganda – for good and for bad) he makes the claim that ancient Greek theater was sung and accompanied by the instruments of the time. Scholars have since debunked Nietzsche’s assertion, but I somehow feel there is an element of truth where there was a certainly a mixture of music and drama among the ancients. Greek theater wasn’t just for plebeian entertainment, but was meant to be a cathartic and collective ritual filled with combined poetry and chanting. In the theater world, this simultaneous convergence of thoughts, ideas, and realities can only be accomplished in opera (or musical theater, sometimes. . .) as opposed to “dialogue only” stage plays. Modern cinema attempts to imitate this “ritual aspect” through quick-edits and operatic sounding movie scores, (see any Star Wars movie) but they fail to sustain the convergence of simultaneous realities as effectively as opera can. The ritual of sacred text combined with music can provide the vehicle where separate realities can co-exist in the same exact moment. Gods and humans can only then converge as one.

A little more on the Tosca/Hecate connection – Hecate is depicted holding two torches. Here are some images of Tosca artwork and productions which look very similar.

Renata Tebaldi as Tosca – Blood red background, shrouded in black, and with candelabra.
In this iconic poster of Tosca which dates back to its premier in 1900. Again, we see the red background, black shadows, the dead Scarpia lying beneath her between two candlesticks, a crucifix is being placed on his chest, and the snake in the lettering. These images harken back to Hecate holding a snake as a sign of wisdom the underworld. Hecate is associated with crossroads, as is shown with Tosca holding a literal “cross” and the candles at each shoulder of Scarpia’s body making a physical cross.
A depiction of Hecate with dark lunar/underworld images of three heads, snakes, torches, dogs, etc. Dogs are featured prominently on The Moon card among Tarot’s Major Arcana and links us to our subconscious. In addition to crossroads, Hecate has been associated with gateways, witchcraft, herbs and poisonous plants, necromancy, etc.

Sometimes these archetypes reach out to our current timeline without any conscious effort from the composer or director or even actor. Almost as if the so-called “creators” are being used by another source to act as instruments to convey the ancient, long forgotten wisdom from the underworld. Sometimes they convey profound messages in spite of the medium or the person creating the medium.

My big take-away from investigating the use of Tosca in QoS was that this was not the typical Bond film. This was not the typical James Bond and Camille is not the typical Bond girl. What I saw in QoS was an initiation of James Bond among the trials of Air, Earth, Water and Fire. This was a quest to deliver divine justice on behalf of a universe that demanded it. The Tosca sequence runs parallel to this storyline – where Tosca herself was an instrument meant to bring the hard fall of a brutal dictator. Director Marc Forster certainly wanted to make his own statement, and in spite of the initial critical and hardcore fan “rejection”, this movie in the succeeding 12 years has managed to carve out a loyal following even among the faithful Bondites. Following threads on reddit, whole discussions devoted to Quantum of Solace (even 12 years after its premiere) are still polarized with “greatest Bond” vs “worst Bond” arguments.

And now that I’ve fallen into this rabbit hole, I’ve found myself seeing Hecate symbols everywhere I go – maybe I’m seeing a sign of the times.

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