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A NIGHT AT THE OPERA: Giacomo Puccini’s Feast for the Senses The Romanian Way

de (5-12-2010)

Last month, I had the opportunity to see the only Puccini opera which I hadn’t ever seen yet  performed live at the Teatrul National in Cluj-Napoca (www.teatrulnationalcluj.ro).  There was a „one night only” engagement, of Tosca and on Saturday, the day before the show, I was able to garner a backstage view of this spectacular building and the set before the curtain went up on Sunday night.

The theater was built in the late 19th Century and the details were all still singing.   Steeped in tradition, having hosted a variety of classical works in the past, appointed with gilt and royal shades of ruby, it was lovely to behold.  The decor beguiled and promised to deliver a special evening to come.  Having studied Puccini’s works in Italy, I was absolutely thrilled to be able to go to this particular performance here in Romania.   I’d seen theatre performances here and in Sibiu and knew that the quality would be superb. Loge boxes in the mezzanine were only 30 RON, a splurge for a Peace Corps volunteer.  But what the heck, live like you’ll never live again, right?

After being overwhelmed by the visit to the inner sanctum (that holy ground that actors and opera stars prepare their roles within)  I was even more fortunate to speak with Director Dan Lupea just before the show  to ask him a few questions about Tosca and his other recent projects.  He was gracious and serious all at once and even though his cast was due to wow us all in less than an hour he had the time to spare for a die-hard opera fan who was eager to get an inside scoop.

Mr. Lupea told me that he’d first directed Tosca in 1973.  This cast from Romania had  just gotten back from performing in Italy and Sweden, although they’d not yet been to the U.S.  He said that he believed Giacomo Puccini’s masterpiece warranted a classical touch unlike some productions which in recent times have met with a heavy hand as far as interpretation was concerned.  He also said that as is the case with other directors, he had his own unique vision, but any modernity was meant not to overwhelm and to only border on subtleties and certainly that more differences were due to the rapid pace necessary  to adequately unfold the layers of the story for today’s audiences.  When I asked him about his experiences with other country’s perspectives on opera, he talked about a collaboration which he had with a South Korean director on the Magic Flute.  An EU project, this huge undertaking had utilized three casts and as interpretations were concerned, he affirmed that there was less of an artful approach here and more of a standard view of what opera is and should be as the composers might have envisioned it.

After our chat, I thanked him and we shook hands.  He also thanked my friends and I for coming and wished us a wonderful night, warning of the „authentic” sound effects in the last act and urging us to be prepared to be surprised.

On the way into the theater later, I met a really cute couple in the lobby and asked them if they’d ever seen an opera.  She had, he hadn’t. Would he be forever married to the opera as many of us are?  Would this performance of Tosca convince him to remain an admirer of this art as she was?  And so, as they both enjoyed the show, I looked over once or twice to see their reactions.  You could feel the suspense as they leaned forward in their seats, letting the music take them away into this age-old story of love, deception, corruption, fear, loathing, longing and sacrifice.

The performances delivered, right down to Scarpia’s wielding of the snake- his closest relative-to the torture and taunting of the begging and pleading Tosca.  Scarpia’s slithy henchmen who skulked around in long, wet look, metal grey coats, mirroring reptilian underworld figures themselves contrasted nicely with the supernumeraries dressed as black and white winged angels/demons.  The set was simple, but fashioned just right for the mood and imagination to flourish.  Then there was the music…aaaaah, that Puccini…the master of emotion.  And then there were the cast, the opera singers, who did such justice to his famous work.  Finally, all the sights and sounds came together in an ending which, although anticipated, rang out as if for the first time while the loud as were promised shots were fired to silence the inconsolable Tosca.

At the finale, the soprano, Tosca, was noticeably absent when it came time for bows and bravos.  She was, as Puccini’s masterpiece has played out for over one hundred years, after all, “really, most sincerely, dead.”

Outside the theater, on the steps, when I asked the young couple I’d met what they thought after seeing the show, the young girl smiled as her gentleman friend responded by saying, „When the soprano hit her high notes I felt my body tingle and the sound go through me like I’d never felt before.  It was really great.”

Yes, it was.

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