I have never been to the opera. Admittedly, I have seen samples of live opera performances in the past at events like Madison’s Opera in the Park, but I at no time in my life have I attended a full opera performance in the theatre. As a result, my experience with opera was limited to the fleeting movements I caught at live events or the medley performances I periodically ran into while flipping through television channels. Realizing two of the biggest elements of any opera performance are the environment in which the opera is performed and the storytelling that comes with a full length opera, I resolved to attend a full length opera during my “I have never...” year. Consequently, I began rifling through potential opera performances Rachael and I could attend in the year and narrowed down a list of dates that had the best potential to work in my busy schedule. Eventually, this resulted in me pinpointing tonight’s performance of one of the most critically acclaimed operas ever written, Tosca, at the nearby Overture Center for the Arts.
Following my workday, I met Rachael at our house to prepare for the night’s event. After throwing on some semi-formal attire, the town of us ate a quick meal before heading down the theatre to catch the performance. I was struck with an air of familiarity as we entered the spacious Overture Center theatre, which had served as the location of several recent experiences during my “I have never...” journey. In turn, Rachael and I were quick to find our seats in the balcony and settled in for the show. Our timing proved perfect as we were afforded just enough time to get comfortable before the swell of the symphony warming up rose from the pit at the foot of the stage. Moments later, the maestro made his entrance and directed the symphony to action as the performance moved into the first act of Tosca.
|A lovers' quarrel|
I was immediately taken aback as the curtain rose, revealing a beautiful set in an Italian cathedral courtyard of centuries past. At first vacant, the music played on before the scenery until a disheveled man took the stage in a panicked, cautious condition. After dodging the eyes of passing clergymen, he fumbled around the courtyard in search of a hidden key. Once located, the man gripped the key tight before running off of the opposite side of the stage from which he entered, leaving the audience unaware of his identity, his purpose, and his intentions. Those first moments of the performance were enough to grab my attention, which remained in Tosca’s grip until the final curtain fell.
Following the initial scene, a series of characters took the stage accompanied by beautiful, prolonged musical movements that helped frame the forthcoming story about rebellion, devotion, love, and impossible circumstances. While I won’t delve into the details about the entire story told in Tosca, I will say the tale is a dramatic piece for the ages. Although the underlying plot was nothing unique in terms of drama, I found myself surprised at how the story developed through a series of turns and decisions by the parties involved.
|The seeds of deception|
Early on, the story of a painter, Mario Cavaradossi, his jealous lover, Floria Tosca, and their involvement in the harboring of a political set the stage for the conflict that would cause the lives of many involved to unravel. Inevitably, Cavaradossi and Tosca’s decisions resulted in them getting entangled in the grip of the evil and desirous Chief of Police, Scarpia, who saw in Cavaradossi’s assumed guilt of harboring a prisoner a chance to fulfill his lust for Tosca. What resulted were intense scenes of soaring music as Cavaradossi was tortured, Tosca was propositioned, and Scarpia reveled in dictated subordination. Stated simply, the opera was powerful and emotional, and the Madison Opera’s presentation of the work made it easy to feel enveloped in the developing story.
Eventually, the story of Tosca moved to its final acts of Scarpia’s deception, Tosca’s desperate act of murder, and Cavaradossi’s execution. Without giving away too much of the plot, I will say only that the end of Tosca left me stunned at the swell of hope surrounding Cavaradossi and Tosca that was crushed by Scarpia even after his death. In a final tragic scene, I struggled to come to terms with the dramatic ending of Cavaradossi and Tosca’s bond, left sealed by a sort of twisted fate in the fleeting final moments of their tale. Although baffling, the conclusion of Tosca couldn’t have been any better suited for the arching, dramatic operatic work. As the final curtain fell, it became obvious to me why many consider Tosca to be one of the greatest operas ever written. While I realize that is a leap for a person who has only attended one opera in his life, the writing, music, and story behind Tosca make it a highly unique work that draws the audience in. Needless to say, the experience was impacting and gave me motivation to look into future Madison Opera performances.
|...and choosing death in the hands of circumstance|
After my first experience with the opera, I can say the experience was more than I expected. Although I knew I would enjoy the music and the live performance, the idea of seeing a historical musical in another language made me wonder if I would be able to tally tonight’s “I have never...” event in the “good experiences” column. In hindsight, I can now say without question the experience was one worth having. In fact, after tonight’s experience I am of the opinion everyone should take the opportunity to experience the opera, and the earlier a person can experience such an event, the better. Like other “I have never...” experiences with art to date, tonight’s trip to the opera made me realize there is so much beauty and joy to take from the innumerable forms of art that are all around us, and that setting aside preconceived notions for the sake of experiencing them firsthand is always a good choice. There’s a lot to be said for what can be gained by simply surrounding oneself with “good stuff.” I’m just glad I’m taking the time to do just that.