Puccini’s Classic Heroine has Arrived in Vancouver

puccini Vancouver
Photo Credit: Tim Matheson

Saturday marked Vancouver Opera’s opening of Puccini’s, Tosca.

The venue for this piece is the coveted Queen Elizabeth Theatre, where everything from the orchestra to the costumes demands attention.

This production, staged in Puccini’s native Italian, comes with a language barrier for us Anglophones. Thankfully, due to the inclusion of subtitles, Tosca proves to be easy to follow. I must admit that my experience with Opera, other than my attempts at belting out a few notes in the shower, has been limited. Fortunately, the story of Tosca enveloped me in a world where singing and story came together. The cast showed me what carrying a note really meant as I melted into my seat and indulged in its mysterious world of song.

Puccini created Tosca after his success with other works such as the popular, La bohème. The story of Tosca follows Floria Tosca (Michele Capalbo), a renowned singer, as she is simultaneously tricked and pursued by the malicious police chief, Baron Scarpia (Gordon Hawkins). Scarpia’s obsession with prying Tosca away from her lover, painter Mario Cavaradossi (David Pomeroy), leads to Scarpia’s successful imprisonment of Cavaradossi and consequently Tosca’s murder of Scarpia. Although I may have only mentioned three characters, Tosca does incorporate others. For me, one of the most memorable scenes is the last tableau of the first act. Here, a choir of children, nuns and priests take over the stage. In conjunction with the symphony these characters lend themselves to presenting the beauty of Opera in its union of voice and symphony.

Tosca is thought to be one of Puccini’s greatest heroines, and it’s easy to see why. This jealous diva deals with love, betrayal, murder, and attempted rape, and somehow manages to face each threat with valor. Even hopeful moments within the plot, such as the reunion of Tosca and Cavaradossi, manage to take a turn for the worst and leave her crying. Fortunately for the audience, Tosca’s courage does not stop her from exploring her grief through heart wrenching song.

The Vancouver Opera’s rendition of Tosca is orthodox in terms of its costuming and sets and thus stays true to its 1800’s time frame. During the first intermission, a lady beside me who mentioned her forty-year involvement with Opera told me she enjoyed this production because of its historical realism. She had distain for anachronistic versions of Tosca she had previously seen—one of which she mentioned was set in a modern day Las Vegas.

Each act bared a new set. Act one with its humble set up of Cavaradossi’s workplace and church, act two’s portrayal of Sarpia’s lavish living room, act three’s set as a holding place for Tosca’s soon to be executed lover. In each act Tosca comes through in her full gowns that brush the ground and sway with her every movement. These beautiful gowns directed my attention to the obvious sex of Tosca, her femininity hindering her from the start she manages to break out of a passive female role and attempts to solve her problems in her own ways. Tosca’s story may end tragically, but the need for a prince to come save her is never an option. This heroine confides only in her voice to help her with her story.

Opera is an acquired taste and with that said, I am glad I left the theatre with a positive outlook. Pulling off Puccini’s countless texts and melodies whilst acting in sync with the live symphony gave me a great amount of respect for every performer involved with Tosca.