Did his villain inspire Puccini's?
Think about it: in the initial Star Wars movie, Luke tells Obi-wan that, naturally, he's against the evil Empire, but he doesn't really want to get involved. By the end of that film, however, he's in the Rebellion up to his eyeballs and acts heroically. Cavaradossi tells Angelotti of his loathing for Scarpia, that vicious agent of the Bourbon monarchy, but to this point in his life he's been content to create beautiful paintings and be Floria Tosca's lover. As with Luke, that all changes as Puccini's Tosca progresses.
Next week I'll have a corresponding character match for Tosca herself, but this post is all about the Baron Scarpia, Chief of Police in Rome.
I don't even have to think up a character match for Scarpia: he does it himself! Whatever else we may think of him, Scarpia is an excellent policeman, with investigative chops worthy of any detective on TV. He quickly infers the meaning of the various clues left at Sant'Andrea delle Valle, correctly deducing that Cavaradossi is in league with the escaped fugitive Angelotti. When Tosca shows up in search of Mario, Scarpia instantly realizes that if he arouses her notorious jealous streak, she'll likely lead him to both men.
This is when he realizes his character match.
"Iago had a handkerchief, and I a fan to drive a jealous lover to distraction!" he says, holding the fan with which he intends to "prove" that Cavaradossi has been unfaithful.
In Act 2 it becomes clear that this connection to Iago, the villain in Verdi's adaptation of Shakespeare's Othello, is very important to Puccini and his librettists. In Scarpia's monologue at the top of the act, pains are taken to drive home the similarity between the two characters. The conclusion of the monologue contains, if you will, Scarpia's "Credo", a moment in which he acknowledges his lack of moral compass:
"For myself the violent conquest
has stronger relish than the soft surrender.
I take no delight in sighs or vows
exchanged at misty lunar dawn.
I know not how to draw
harmony from guitars, or horoscopes
from flowers, nor am I apt at dalliance,
or cooing like the turtle dove. I crave,
I pursue the craved thing, satiate myself and cast it by,
and seek new bait. God made diverse beauties
as he made diverse wines, and of these
God-like works I mean to taste my full."
The last two sentences are delivered at the top of his lungs, with fierceness and arrogance. It's meant to put us in mind of Iago's full-throated "Credo" at the top of Act 2 in Otello:
Who has created me in His image
And who I call upon in hate.
I was born from some vile seed or base atom.
I am evil because I am a man,
And I feel primordial slime in me.
Got it? They're both bad to the bone without any trace of conscience or shame. SCARPIA IS IAGO.
But is he, though?
In Your Faithful Blogger's opinion, Scarpia's identification with Iago isn't completely convincing. It rests wholly on the premise of using a rival's jealous nature to achieve one's evil intentions. But the similarity ends there!
The reason Iago is such a memorable character is that he presents an amiable, empathetic facade to others; he's the one man no one would ever suspect of cruelty. His manipulation is so subtle that the other characters never realize he was doing it until it's too late.
Scarpia, on the other hand, is a violent thug, and everybody in Rome knows it, as Tosca makes plain in her famous epitaph over his corpse:
"And before him trembled all of Rome."
This leads us to realize that, in reality, Baron Scarpia is kind of an anti-Iago - in methods if not in evil agendas. Perhaps his facile self-analysis reveals that he is incapable of seeing himself as he really is. He's failed to follow the iconic advice of Sophocles: