Last night I went to see Tosca, done by the WNO. I’m not very good at this reviewing thing, to be honest. Anyway, the set was beautiful, well thought-out, sumptuous, dramatic, forbidding, dark; they had real candles on stage and what was especially clever was the way the set seemed to continue out of sight: the first act takes place in a church and we could see the bottom half of a huge crucifix, and the bottom half of a large portrait of the Madonna, but not the top halves of either; giving a feeling of space and realism and shadow and general old cold churchiness, which was very effective.
What I like about Tosca is how the central part, and by far the largest part in the piece, is the character of Floria Tosca, who was brilliantly sung by, in fact, the understudy, I believe, last night (although I should really have had a closer look at the programme – it’s a long run, this, so each part was actually played by two people – one for the first half of the tour and one for the second; I can’t remember the names and so actually I would guess that whoever sung Tosca last night was in fact the soprano who is doing the second half of the tour rather than the singer doing the first who we should have had). Anyway, I don’t remember her name, but she was very good.
What was most interesting is that this is the first opera this particular director has directed – I assume he normally does plays, because what I do remember from the programme is that he doesn’t read music and that all he knew about Tosca was the music and the story, and had never seen it done on stage, so I suppose that means he comes to it with a fresh eye and a new perspective. Having never seen Tosca before either, I couldn’t possibly comment; but I do find it interesting that with no musical background whatsoever he came along and directed a whole opera and personally I really enjoyed myself and I guess that’s what counts. Tosca is probably a very good place to start, really – well-known, accessible, some really big tunes and famous moments.
I shan’t synopsise it here – if you want to know the story you can read the Synopsis helpfully provided by Wikipedia – but I will tell you this small anecdote. The opera finishes with Tosca throwing herself to her death off the battlements of the castle in which most of the action takes place, which is obviously quite difficult to stage because you have to jump off a battlement which is on the stage such that you land out of sight – which inevitably means you’re going to have to jump something higher than your own height (this is the major reason why I would never sing Tosca – I can’t jump that kind of height without absolutely murdering my ankles and knees – that and the fact that I can’t sing, but never mind…) whilst wearing a probably fairly long and awkward dress and so on. My mother’s friend once went to a production in which they got round this by providing a mattress or a trampet or something for Tosca to land on, leading to the unfortunately comic spectacle of Tosca, supposedly lying dead on the ground 100ft below, rebounding again and again above the level of the parapet. Oops. (For some reason at this point the line ‘may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest’ comes to mind). Thankfully this didn’t happen to our Tosca – she jumped off, her cloak fluttering behind her, and the music swelled and pounded and before we knew it we were all applauding.
Anyway. From what little I know about opera, there are certainly better productions, but there are certainly worse ones. It was ably sung and well acted and full of dramatic tension, the music was stunning, and there was ice-cream in the interval. What more can you ask for, really?