PLOT: Floria Tosca and Mario Cavaradossi are in love and all they want is to be left alone. Baron Scarpia, however, wants Floria for his physical needs. He arrests Mario for aiding a fugitive and tells Tosca she can save him by giving herself to him. She agrees, but the kiss he has so longed for is the fatal kiss of a knife blade. He had promised to set up a false execution for Mario, but the treachery of Scarpia is revealed as Mario is killed. Tosca vows to meet Scarpia in front of God as she leaps over the side of the building to her death.
The day has finally arrived for tonight I am watching my very first opera at the Hackney Empire and I’ve chosen Puccini’s Tosca to break me in. I have done my homework (or so I thought) as I read up on what it was about and more importantly familiarised myself with its music weeks before.Olivier award nominee Tim Carroll directs this political thriller, set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, in which a handful of idealists are pitted against the might of a totalitarian state. Noel Davies, conductor of ETO’s acclaimed spring 2005 production of ‘Mary, Queen of Scots’ and veteran of the Royal Opera and the New York Met, is the conductor.
I arrive just 15 minutes before the show and was impressed with the newly refurbished Hackney Empire, didnt realise that my stall seat was literally just at the back of the orchestra, I can even see the conductor’s baton swinging up in the air when they were doing some sound check. The orchestra is scaled down by just about 30 or so musicians, under conductor Noel Davies who gave life to Puccini’s music that evening. The stage was devoid of props, Michael Vale’s minimalist set – a series of six foot-high mottled grey panels with a ladder leading to an upper level – may be little more than practical, though its two-level possibilities are well exploited. And then it begins. We had a full house and there was just a lot of energy in the audience, halfway through Act I, I was already enjoying myself.
The singing, in Edmund Tracey’s English translation, was respectable but with some reservations. The reason I shied away from “La Bohéme” the week before was because it will be sung in English, I had by then realised that this production was from the English Touring Opera. Soprano Julie Unwin who played Tosca was a revelation. She was delightful to watch on stage and gave Tosca the much needed edge as a character. The role of Cavaradossi was performed by understudy Michael Bracegirdle. He gives his all in his Act 3 letter aria but takes a while to warm up in Act 1. By the time I heard the melody to “E lucevan le stelle”, I was by then soaring and all choked up.
E lucevan le stelle
ed olezzava la terra,
stridea l’uscio dell’orto,
e un passo sfiorava la rena…
Entrava ella, fragrante,
mi cadea fra le braccia…
Oh, dolci baci, o languide carezze,
le belle forme disciogliea dai veli!
Svani per sempre il sogno mio d’amore…
L’ora e fuggita…
E muoio disperato!
E non ho amato mai tanto la vita,
tanto la vita!
| And the stars were shining and the earth smelt sweet.
The garden gate creaked
and a footstep brushed the sand…
She entered, fragrant
and fell into my arms… Oh soft kisses, tender caresses,
while I all a-quiver,
unveiled her lovely features.
Vanished forever in my dreams of love,
that time has fled,
and I die in despair.
And I have never loved life so much,
It was fantastic! The cast had like 8 curtain calls that evening, and very well deserved. They say you never forget your first time. I surely wont.