I never thought that I would ever enjoy watching an opera. I had many preconceptions about opera and thought that I would hate the experience of going to see one. This is the first opera I have ever seen so I am a complete novice. Thanks to being introduced to opera through Opera North’s Tosca, I realise that I had been blinded by my judgements. The ingrained ideas I had about opera were completely wrong. This is how Tosca converted me into an opera fan and transformed my thinking, dispelling the many misconceptions I had about this art form.
1. It’s all in another language so I won’t be able to understand it.
Yes, it is true that a lot of opera is not in English. Tosca is in Italian. However, a lot of operas provide captions to accompany the performance and serve as translation. They make the story a lot easier to understand and make opera accessible to people who do not speak the language. I was expecting the captions to be like subtitles. However, unlike subtitles, they don’t translate every word that is sung. They translate the most important part. Sometimes if there is a duet, it will only translate one character’s side of the conversation which can initially be confusing. Nonetheless, it is easy understand the emotions and characterisation of the other singer, even if you can’t fully discern what they are singing. Opera is an art form that powerfully conveys emotion through voice and performance. I was captivated by Tosca’s narrative of jealousy, love, betrayal and revenge from the minute it started.
2. I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the captions.
As opera is sung, rather than spoken, it naturally takes longer to sing the words than to speak them. It is an art form that elongates the words being sung so they are slower, and more beautiful to listen to. As the language is a lot slower than the time it takes to read the captions, there is plenty of time to digest what is happening on stage. The captions provide an enhancement, rather than an detachment of emotion.
3. The captions would divert my attention away from the stage and I would miss the action.
Opera North provided captions on both sides of the stage for Tosca. They did not intrude on the action on stage and I didn’t have to keep craning my neck to read them. I could simply glance at them to understand what was being sung. It was easy to flick between the two without much effort, and without missing the action on stage. They were not a distraction.
4. The audience would be elitist.
Whilst the ticket prices for Tosca, at The Lowry, range up to £60 per ticket, there are plenty of cheaper priced tickets available. I was sat on the row in front of members from Streetwise Opera, a fantastic charity that provides homeless people a platform to perform opera. It allows its members an opportunity to escape the hardships they face on a daily basis. Some of these homeless people sat behind me and were much more familiar with opera than I am. They were enjoying seeing my reactions to Tosca, as a newbie experiencing this opera for the first time. Being a working-class Mancunian, I never felt out of place watching Tosca, defying my perceptions that only high-brow audiences watch opera. If the incredible people from Streetwise Opera prove anything, it is that opera is truly accessible to all.
5. The pitch of female opera singers hurts my ears.
Whenever I listened to opera in my school’s music class, we only ever heard soprano arias, by singers like Maria Callas. The pitch that sopranos can reach at the climax of their arias hurt my ears. However, experiencing opera live is a completely different experience. When music accompanies the vocals, it creates a harmony. Although I am no expert, I thought that Giselle Allen, who played the title role, had a magnificent voice. Her powerful projection and the sheer emotion that she conveyed was incredible. I particularly admired Allen’s ability to deliver an entire aria lying on the floor, as Tosca wept for the fate of her imprisoned lover, Cavaradossi. I was moved to tears at this moment. As she received a resounding applause from the entire audience after this emotional song, I mustn’t have been alone.
6. Opera is over-dramatic. I won’t believe the singers’ performances.
I was stunned to discover how much emotion the opera singers could convey through their voice. From start to finish, I sat in awe, fully engrossed in the performance. The acting in Tosca wasn’t over the top or hammed up. I was amazed at how emotionally powerful opera is as an art form. I was moved to tears at several points during Tosca, by the beautifully tragic romance of Tosca and Cavaradossi, and the heart breaking climax of the narrative. The performances from every member of the opera were incredible. The music also conveys a lot of emotion and Puccini’s score is dramatic and magnificent. It was hard not to be carried away by it.
7. It is old fashioned.
This production of Tosca was set within a modern context, which made it relatable. The modern setting worked well, particularly in the scene where the Machiavellian Scarpia interrogates Cavaradossi. Scarpia forces Tosca to agonisingly watch, on a laptop screen, her lover being tortured. Scarpia cruelly demands that Tosca allows him to have sex with her, in exchange for her lover’s freedom. In a post Harvey Weinstein world, this is incredibly relevant to a modern audience, and harrowing to watch. As Tosca sang her aria pleading for God to save her lover, it appeared that Scarpia was recording her pleading prayers on his phone, making this scene even more horrific. This modern production allowed Tosca to be more approachable than I originally thought it would be.
8. I wouldn’t enjoy watching an opera.
I was absolutely blown away by Tosca. The stage design, complete with an exquisitely painted dome ceiling was stunning. I was surprised at how much I was transfixed and enraptured by this opera.
Opera North’s Tosca has converted me to an opera fan. It made me realise how stupid my misconceptions were. I have regrettably missed a decades of watching opera because of my clouded judgements. I have much to catch up on!
If anybody feels the same as I did about opera – Please go and watch one! You may just experience something transformational!
For More Information on Streetwise Opera, please visit their website:-
Photo Credits = Richard H Smith