The other evening we were at the opera. Well, at the Opera House….though in fact Melbourne hides the dreaded O word by calling the building The Arts Centre. The event was merely a talk about the forthcoming production of Tosca, and free tickets were posted on request, two per mailing-list member.
So we came in our droves. The arts director gloated when the curtain rose, “We have a full house!” Then he added, “It’s clearly a free event….”
The free hour was over quickly, but we had a treat – the two good arias by Tosca and her lover including the famous one as he awaits execution. How good is that, to get the best and skip the rest? In addition, we were in the Stalls, 7 rows from the stage and in the middle (a saving of $249 x 2.)
We also heard from the director John Bell and the conductor Andrea Molino, in front of the gorgeous scenery of the first act. The set designer Michael Scott-Mitchell has re-created the interior of the real church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Rome, where Puccini placed the first act. The set is at an angle to the audience, so that different parts of the audience see different things – unusual and entrancing. We were not allowed to take photographs, so here is a shot stolen from elsewhere:
(Photo credit: Prudence Upton from the Opera Australia blog)
There was a slightly malicious chuckle that the set had to be enlarged for Melbourne after the Sydney run. On our tour of the Melbourne Opera House some years ago, the tour guide commented, “There is only one opera house in Australia. Sydney got the outside, Melbourne got the inside.” One day I’ll see inside the Sydney Opera House too, and will also be able to chuckle at how small it is.
Apparently, Puccini took great care to sit at the real venues at 4 am (the time of the execution) and listen to the bells of Rome ringing at various distances, and he noted those sounds and volumes in the score. He went to four different foundries to get bells cast for his performances and while his collaborator complained that the great expense hardly added to the effect as no one noticed, the issue of the relative sounds of the bells has bothered producers of the opera ever since. This is another of these little traditions that have to be carried forward with pride, no matter how difficult.
Attention to detail abounds. I was impressed that while the painting that plays a vital role in the plot faces away from the audience for the entire opera (in this production), it is actually a real picture. We were afforded a peep, though other secrets were kept.
The setting is still in Italy, but the era has been changed from 1800 (during Napoleonic times) to 1943, and Tosca apparently does not jump this time (the conductor said he was recently in Rome and he saw that it would be rather difficult to kill oneself by leaping off the Castel Sant’Angelo as the original setting requires.) How this version of the opera ends is a mystery to be solved by paying $59 to $249 per ticket later in the month, and then actually attending.
If opera isn’t your thing but you feel you should know something about it, here is a 9 minute outline of the plots of 11 operas, death tally 38 – listen fast. I’m sure you have somehow heard at least one aria from each opera, without knowing it, but you won’t get any inkling of actual music while watching this video. Sad, as that’s the one redeeming feature of opera, in my opinion, as it is usually too hard for me suspend disbelief at the plots and the middle-aged, large but apparently irresistible virgins.
Talking of glorious moments and tedious half hours, Anna Russell’s century-old precis of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung gets you up to speed on that musical drama (yes, her precis is also in parts…. you’ll find the others). The Ring Cycle is the famous 4-night-long opera, whose premise is rather like Lord of the Rings but with more singing and fewer hobbits. No hobbits, in fact, and much, much, MUCH more singing. No New Zealand and much more stage. Ok, the similarity probably begins and ends with the evil ring, and the dwarf.
We said goodbye forever to our lovely expensive seats and walked back to the station under the full moon.