Sunday, July 13, 2008

E lucevan le stelle

M. sang in the chorus for a production of Puccini's Tosca at the Riverside Church this weekend that showed how a shoestring budget operation can still produce great opera. The Times article I read the other day recounting the 25-year history of supertitles provided a good backdrop for seeing an opera for the first time without the simultaneous English translation above or below the action. I'd seen Tosca before and it didn't take long to brush up on the plot. That left me the ability to focus more fully on the singing and the acting and to look for the subtler emotional touches warranted by the story. It also made it feel a little more passionate and mysterious. The use of the space also impressed me. The audience was arrayed in diagonal lines, cutting across a rather ornate meeting room on the 10th floor of the tower of Riverside Church, the tallest church in the U.S., funded back in the '20s by Rockefeller money. It well suited the three settings of Tosca: a church, palace apartments, and the parapet of a castle. Rather than using the actual stage provided, the action took place off to the side of the room, which could easily stand in for each act's scenery - right up to the part where Tosca jumped out the window (onto a safe ledge overlooking the Hudson and the starry sky). The show produced the desired Puccini goosebumps for me.

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