While some formerly ‘high-brow’ entertainment types have made their way into the mainstream (think fine art on high street t-shirts, or ballet performed to hip-hop music), opera has yet to make a noticeable transition. But that’s not to say that the average punter can’t swap their usual televisual Saturday night viewings for a trip to the local theatre to see one of the operatic world’s most loved productions.
York Theatre Royal brought English Touring Opera‘s ‘Tosca’ to such an audience this week, introducing avid fans and newcomers alike to Giacomo Puccini’s celebrated work. First performed in Rome in 1900, the story takes place in the same city a century earlier, under siege by Napoleon’s forces. A political prisoner, Angelotti, is given protection by Cavaradossi, a local artist, who is in love with a famous singer, Tosca. The chief of police, Scarpia, manipulates Tosca’s love for the artist to find the two men.
Angelotti takes his own life and Cavaradossi is captured. Scarpia wants Tosca as his lover; the singer plays him at his own game, getting him to agree to Cavaradossi’s release before killing the police chief. But too late – the artist is killed by the firing squad, and Tosca’s wanted for murder. She sees no choice but to kill herself, and leaps to her death. As you can imagine, it’s not your light-hearted musical – but it is a spectacular example of the power of opera as a medium, and the universal language of love, war, and the emotions that run through these themes.
Sung in Italian, surtitles are provided on a screen; but it’s far more enjoyable to focus on the action on the stage and to let the singing and music narrate your understanding. The superb cast, talented orchestra and flawless direction provide all the information you need aurally and visually; you cannot help but be swept up in the romance, agony, conflict and chaos of the production’s three acts.
With its fascinating history, timeless themes, and spectacular songs, ‘Tosca’ is an ideal introduction to opera and a recommended refresher for those already familiar with the medium. English Touring Opera have dates across the UK – take a look at their website for details.