Giacomo Puccini - Tosca
Third Act video
The clarinet solo in the beginning of the third act of Tosca is one of the juiciest, most emotional moments for the clarinet in all of the repertoire. To play any opera solo properly, you must represent the frame of mind of the character or characters appropriate to the drama. To do that, you must watch the operas, or at least the scenes, in question. In this case, Cavaradossi is about to be executed, and he doesn't regret that he will die, only that he will never see his beloved Tosca again.
Puccini is full of rubato-by-tradition - very little of what is usually done is actually marked in the part. More than any other music, it is critical to listen to multiple recordings of this passage to get an idea of the standard places to linger and move. And in particular, in this solo Puccini gives us a lot of word directions, many we have not seen before. Look them up in a good source like an Italian-English dictionary or translation software. It is best to compare translations from different sources
The solo at 11 is preceded by a giant 'cello solo/soli with a huge peak and retreat down to hopelessness. Harp notes set the stage for your first notes, and I like to play them in the same tempo as the harpist did. Start very softly and slowly. When you reach the rubando, stretch the first note, play immediately faster on the second and retard to the E with rit. written over it. Hold this E in a short fermata, and cresc. through to the downbeat of the next measure. Do not play this andante too slowly, or you'll have no room to slow down later. Remember, this is still an introduction, and after your solo, the tenor will sing this all over again. I like to come away slightly on the D and play a gluey cresc. to the next down beat, relaxing again in the same way. Breathe before the 16th notes, stretch the first one and accel to the next bar. Play the eight-notes slower, with tenuto and a big cresc. I like to put a subito p on the high C. Play the grace-notes slowly and linger on the B-flat, diminuendo-ing to the A at pp. The As should be somewhat static, with a slight dim. on the quarter-note to show separation between them. Make the bar with 16th-notes into one gesture (one dim., one rit.), and a smaller version in rubato of what you did in the first bar. Now you have a huge cresc. and get very loud on the two B-flats. Play f, slowly, with tenuto, and "difficultly" in the next measure, fading only when you reach the A dotted-half-note, and fade very far. Play the eighth-note Gs in a p imitation of the B-flats, arriving at the E in the same way, then cresc. surprisingly through the third beat of this bar to the unusual, unique dissonance on the Fs giving them deepness and a little dim. for separation on the quarter-note.
Start 2 before 12 mf, more slowly, tenuto, and with a big cresc. Play fermata on the high C, with another huge cresc. on this note only (I like to come back to mf again to make the big swell). Play the 16th notes fast, in anticipation of the affrettando with your peak dynamic on the first F in the next measure. These Fs should be playing in a diminution of the phrasing you played when the rhythm was quarter-half. A long tenuto on the E with dim. through the third beat to a resigned D that fades away. These last three bars should feel be as if you are portraying the final struggle against defeat before giving in to exhaustion. In performance, it is very important to lead the second clarinet clearly in these last three bars so that you are perfectly together.