Reflecting on Puccini's 'Tosca'
I wasn’t going to make a big deal about reviewing the current 2018/19 season of operas put on by opera north as I won’t be attending all of them, but I certainly couldn’t not mention the fact that I went to see Tosca at the Leeds Grand Theatre on Saturday (13/10/2018). So, true to what I want this blog to become, this post is more of a reflection and discussion of the opera, rather than a serious ‘review’. I’d really love it if you want to contribute, and anybody is welcome to comment and discuss below.
This was the first time I’d gone into an opera pretty much entirely ‘blind’. While at university in Leeds, I studied opera as part of my course and therefore learned a lot about each opera before I went to see it. This was fascinating in itself, as it’s incredible to see large and complex works of music that you’ve studied come to life in front of you, and it’s also really interesting to see how some of what you know about has been interpreted. One such opera where this was very much the case was the 2017 production of Humperdinck’s ‘Hansel and Gretel’, directed by Edward Dick (who also directed this version of Tosca). The interpretation was genius, with technology being used to great advantage (I won’t spoil it totally as it might get put on again!).
Having been in March to see Puccini’s ‘Madame Butterfly’ (idea for first-time opera going - opera really isn’t what you expect it to be and this piece really shows that off. It’s full of actually felt emotion rather than ridiculous displays of helplessness, for example. I honestly think that opera is for everyone, not just the posh or ‘old’ people you might expect to be there… but that’s a discussion for a whole different post!) and also having seen ‘Turandot’ in 2016, I had a fair bit of experience with the composer. While ‘Turandot’ was quite musically gritty, ‘Madame Butterfly’ used more lyrical music. ‘Tosca’, I think, sat somewhere between the two. It’s gritty, yet emotionally engaging and at times beautiful. The way Dick directed it really was masterful, with fantastic visuals, really bringing out certain elements so that the story seemed relevant for today. It seemed as if this was how the opera was always meant to be performed. Giselle Allen, who I have seen perform in a number of operas over the past few years, really, truly owned the title role. She’s such a fantastic singer, and can really project powerfully over very thick orchestration, and her acting was genuinely engaging. It all amounted to something much more than just some posh people warbling on a stage.
Unfortunately its run has now ended in Leeds, but it’s touring around the north, so if you get chance, do go and see it! I think Opera North do such an amazing job at making opera accessible and interesting to everyone - showing off what opera really is about. There are still a fair few operas to go this season, so I’d really recommend looking online and booking one or two which take your interest (under 30s can get tickets for £10, often in seats which are worth around £70, which is such a good deal). Have a look here for more info. All I would say is, for younger children, check out some of the themes the opera deals with before booking. Some are great for the whole family and some, like ‘Tosca’, are perhaps more suitable for older teenagers and above.
And if you’re not about to go booking for an opera, give ‘Tosca’ a listen! Being able to sit down and read the synopsis (which seems quite confusing, but actually isn’t when it’s happening in front of you) and listen to the music right from knowing practically nothing about the music is really exciting. There’s so much storytelling going on with the beautiful lyrics and fantastically descriptive music. I especially think that the Te Deum at the end of Act 1 is a powerful musical moment (on stage, with such masterful direction, it was really something to behold - you could smell actual incense which was a great touch). If you can get English translations of the libretto too, it really helps (Opera North are great for having English surtitles, which add to understanding without distracting from what’s actually going on on stage).
To be honest, this could have been one of the best operas I’ve seen - it had everything I’ve loved about opera before, all distilled brilliantly into one production. I’d highly recommend catching it as it tours! You can find a recording below. I’d love to know if you’ve seen it, either with this production or elsewhere - or what some of your favourite opera memories are.