Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Opera: Tosca for Beginners

English National Opera's Tosca at the London Coliseum

Do you think Nessun Dorma’s a small Japanese car or Puccini’s a type of Pasta? Do you worry you’ll have to dress up for a night at the Opera? How will you understand what’s going on? Does everyone sing in Italian? English National Opera takes the fear out of a trip to the Opera as we found out last weekend when we confronted our fears and snuck in to the public dress rehearsal of ENO’s TOSCA.

For starters, visiting the London Coliseum is just like visiting any other West End Theatre. Some people like to dress up, while others will be casual – so jeans are fine. ENO performs exclusively in English, so you won’t need a language degree to understand the story. That said, Opera singers do tend to exaggerate words, so there are surtitles above the stage to help.

Keri Alkema as TOSCA [Photo: Richard Hubert Smith]
Keri Alkema as TOSCA [Photo: Richard Hubert Smith]
Tosca contains at least a couple of tunes that you might recognise: Vissi D’arte (I Lived For Art) is sung by Tosca to a God who seems to have abandoned her. The second, E Lucevan Le Stelle (And The Stars Were Shining) is sung by Cavarodossi while he awaits his execution on the roof of Castel Sant’Angelo – the original Italian version is sung by Andrea Bocelli below.

The Plot in a nutshell

Act One

1800 – Rome. Baron Scarpia, general of the secret police (the baddie)- is rounding up republicans. Angelotti, a republican, escapes from prison. Cavaradossi (a painter) hides him in a well. Tosca (the girlfriend) is jealous because Cavaradossi is painting another woman and accidentally leads Scarpia to Cavaradossi.

Act Two

Scarpia arrests Cavaradossi and tortures him – but Cavaradossi still won’t tell him where to find Angelotti. Tosca resists for a while, but eventually gives up and tells Scarpia where to find Angelotti. This takes about 30 minutes. Scarpia sentences Cavaradossi to death anyway. Tosca agrees to sleep with Scarpia to save Cavaradossi but changes her mind and decides just to stab him to death instead.

Gwyn Hughes Jones as Cavaradossi [photo: Richard Hubert Smith]
Gwyn Hughes Jones as Cavaradossi [photo: Richard Hubert Smith]
Act Three

Tosca runs to Castel Sant’Angelo where Cavaradossi is awaiting execution. She believes he has been secretly pardoned and the firing squad have been told to all miss. Sadly nobody told them that. He dies. She throws herself off the roof. They manage to do all this whilst still singing!

Craig Colclough as Scarpia [Photo: Richard
Craig Colclough as Scarpia [Photo: Richard Hubert Smith]
The running time for TOSCA is 2h45m including two 20 minute intervals – so you’ll have plenty of time for a glass (or two) of wine and to powder your nose.

If you fancy swotting up on other Puccini classics, the excellent Opera For Dummies is available on Amazon.

Don’t be afraid…book tickets now for ENO’s TOSCA.

Want inside tips on where to eat nearby? Check out our Best Theatreland Eats and Drinks.