Opera or Opera-nah: A review of Tosca

Opera virgin Sidney Pinsent reviews Theatre Royal's performance of Tosca

Sidney Pinsent
26th November 2018
Image: Opera North

The interior feels a little like stepping into a memory of a Newcastle that once was. Lush red carpets with sleek wood that looks newly polished and refurbished, wide stairs and a feeling of warmth without the stuffiness. Bodies, well covered in dark and clean clothes and moving slowly, holding lagers from the continent and overpriced red wine. This is the Theatre Royal on Grey Street, the fanciest building in Newcastle, where no student is meant to tread. 

Our generation have Eldon Square and The Gate, huge bastions of cash and metal where we go to eat spiced chicken and watch blockbusters in chairs made on the other side of the world. But tonight there is Opera. Opera for the rich and well cultured, I thought. Yet the experience was extraordinary and accessible, a window to an art form wasted on the snobby but made for everyone.

here is the beauty of it: Opera is pure emotion, not drama.

The story of Tosca follows painter Mario Cavaradossi as he hides his prisoner friend Cesare Angelotti from the evil Baron Scarpia. Scarpia and his agents connect Mario Cavaradossi with the prisoner and torture him to extract a confession. Baron Scarpia then blackmails Mario’s wife Tosca, saying he will only free Mario if she sleeps with him.

When the play first opened in 1900 it was considered ‘not a good subject for opera’ as the story was filled with adultery, murder and political themes that are critical of those highest up in society. Indeed, director Edward Dick saw this as an opportunity to bring Tosca to a modern setting, basing Baron Scarpia on Trump, who ends up being more of a pantomime villain than anything with political bite. Actually, the entire opera is a bit of a pantomime. It’s not trying to tell you anything profound or lead you through a story that’s riveting and original. But here is the beauty of it: Opera is pure emotion, not drama. It’s the crashing of two voices in harmony that reach beyond the theatre walls and through your heart. It’s the sway of the orchestra and pizazz of the set. It’s spectacular, epic, ludicrous and rich. An experience that would have left me floating up for the heavens if my hand wasn’t clasped to the arm rest the entire time.

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