This is the first opera that I have seen and what better way to start than with one of the greatest ever written and possibly the most famous, performed by the the English Touring Opera. I will be heading back, particularly if it’s Puccini.
The plot might seem far-fetched, but it’s based around the Napoleonic Wars’ real events. The politics are ambiguous with the heroes supporting Napoleon, the Corsican ogre. As the first act starts, all seems innocence until an escaped political prisoner encounters an artist, Mario Cavaradossi, and involves him in an attempted escape.
Cavaradossi is the singer Floria Tosca’s lover and she too becomes drawn into the evolving situation. Tosca is passionately loving, yet jealous and temperamental; trying to do the right thing and driven beyond endurance, she falls victim to Baron Scarpia, Rome’s chief of police.
Scarpia is a psychopath, manipulating, torturing and ravishing. He states his dual intention of capturing the political prisoner and Cavaradossi, and ravishing Tosca. We all enjoyed our schadenfreude when his plans didn’t quite work out.
Through brutal torture, extortion for sex and well-meaning betrayal, the piece winds its way to a truly tragic ending and the most famous fictional suicide of all time.
The vocals was truly sublime and spontaneous applause broke out more than once, particularly during the well-known arias. A large and capable orchestra supported the singers and this was much appreciated. Early on things did seem to drag slightly; as it’s essentially a conversation in song, the music could be a little unstructured, but who am I to criticise Puccini? The surtitles screen was quite offset from the stage and one did tend to be reading when stuff was kicking off; I could learn Italian. Things tightened up as the plot climax approached and there were some heart-rending moments.
The third act’s start was very slow with a few figures wandering randomly around with muskets and this time could be shortened, I felt. There is a light tone early in the piece and it did feel a little ridiculous at times, but this is useful counter-point for what lies ahead, which is frankly brutal.
I can make little comment on the costumes, but they looked lived in and convinced me enough. Lighting was well-handled; a little low key for me at times, but excellently mood-invoking. The set was essentially the same throughout with a few furniture changes. It coped well as a chapel, a residence and the battlements of a castle.
Congratulations to the singers who really were excellent. As a non-singer, how you can do that literally pitch perfect in a foreign language, I really don’t know. The orchestra’s intonation, timing and general commitment were all admirable. There were several well-deserved curtain calls.
It was good to see a nearly full house; there are clearly plenty of opera fans in Blackpool and the Fylde. This was a one night only opportunity. More of this please.
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