The Tosca effect

Implausible things in opera staging, things any TV show gets right, things that can mar even opera productions that, overall, are quite good — that was the subject of my previous post.

This weakens us, I said, If stage action isn’t plausible, people who come to opera from the outside will be turned off, will think we’re incapable, and very likely think our claim to be great art doesn’t quite track. If we can’t do the simple things, how can we claim to do big things?

I was talking primarily of physical action on stage that’s not remotely physical enough. Or just doesn’t seem plausible. I sometimes call this “the Tosca effect, becuase I keep seeing it at the end of Tosca.

Tosca is hiding from a police squad, after the police discover that she’s killed their chief. Hiding, I should add, in plain sight of the audience.

And yet the police can’t catch her. She evades them, and jumps to her triumphant death of the rooftop where all this happen.

How does she evade them? It’s so simple. Very cleverly, in fact with diabolical cleverness, they look everywhere except where she is. Hard not to laugh out loud when I see this, especially at a big opera house. You’d think someone would notice how silly it looks, and find a way to make it look real.


Hagen blogBut back to sheer physicality. Let’s look for a moment at Siegfried’s death in Götterdämmerung. Hagen, the most evil of villains, impales him from behind with a spear.

So now think of what that would look like if it really happened. Not that I have any first-hand experience with murder! But it seems pretty obvious that to run someone through with a spear — with enough force to kill — would take a lot of strength. A huge effort. Enough effort, looking now at the music, to make Hagen sing (or more likely scream) a high G, a note above the range of any normal bass.

And it should be obvious, too, that the shock of the spear going through him would make Siegfried’s body convulse, and maybe make him scream.

If we saw these things, in the opera, then the murder would look (and, more crucially, feel, to the audience) every bit as ghastly as it’s meant to be.

But we don’t see that. Certainly didn’t in the generally transcendent Washington National Opera Ring

How to fix this

When I posted about this on Facebook, many people lamented the lack of real acting training for opera singers. And that lack certainly exists.

But we don’t need special training for that moment in Götterdämmerung, or for any other greatly physical moment in any opera. All we need is a movement coach.

See my next post for why. This is more than theory. I’ve seen it work.

Original Source: The Tosca effect


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