This is all set to be a first in several respects. Lin Hwai-min (林懷民), Cloud Gate's artistic director, has directed opera before but never a semi-staged version like this. Chien Wen-pin (簡文彬), the NSO's musical director, spends a good deal of time in Germany conducting operas, but has never conducted a complete one here in Taiwan. No opera has been performed in full in the National Concert Hall, at least in recent years. And Germany's Oleg Bryjak, who will sing the villain Scarpia, has never previously visited Taiwan, let alone sung here.
Talking to me on Monday evening, Lin Hwai-min explained how this New Year Tosca will be staged. The orchestra will be banished to the back half of the stage area, and the action will take place on the front half and on the high level below the organ, plus in the aisles, and on one of the balconies.
The setting, originally Rome in the Napoleonic era with the hero battling the combined power of the church and the secret police, is to be changed to modern Taipei. Scarpia will be transformed from chief-of-police to a Wanhua gangland godfather, and Tosca from an opera singer into a contemporary pop star.
The shepherd boy who sings a dawn aria at the opening of Act Three will do so from the corner of the concert hall's first balcony. The painting the tenor is working on in Act One will be imaginary. Several entrances and exits will be made through the auditorium.
There will be no scenery, just a table and chairs, and candles for the Act Two dinner and for the church procession that ends Act One. No Cloud Gate dancers will be involved, and the churchgoers who throng the stage at the end of Act One will be the chorus members dressed as modern Taipei citizens.
This, then, should be dramatic contemporary Tosca. In Monday evening's rehearsal few singers were involved, but there was much pointing of revolvers, and a lean, confrontational style seems to be the guiding principle of the production.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE NSO
The music will, of course, be unaltered, and the opera will be sung in the original Italian. A translation of the text will be provided in the form of a free program that patrons receive when they buy their tickets, thus giving them time to study the story in advance.
Tosca herself will be sung by Chen Yen-ling (
Tosca's lover, Cavaradossi, will be sung by tenor Zhang Jianyi (張建一). He is a widely-experienced artist who has already appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and is due to sing Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor and Ismaele in Nabucco there next year. He has sung 38 leading tenor roles worldwide.
The wicked Scarpia will be Germany's Oleg Bryjak. Chien Wen-pin met him when they worked on the same production at Dusseldorf Opera.
Bryjak, aged 42, has sung Scarpia several times before. He's known for his bearded appearance and his ability to assume a wicked laugh, equally appropriate for a Wanhua gang-leader and a chief-of-police, presumably.
The essence of the traditional plot is as follows. The artist Cavaradossi is working on a massive painting in a Roman church, but he is a sympathizer with revolutionary forces seeking to overthrow the state. The chief-of-police Scarpia knows this, and when a known revolutionary escapes from jail, Cavaradossi is arrested. Scarpia is powerfully attracted to Cavaradossi's lover, Tosca. When the police torture Cavaradossi in the hope of finding out the runaway's whereabouts, Tosca offers Scarpia anything if they will stop. He demands her body for the night. Tosca agrees, and Scarpia signs an order that Cavaradossi should merely be subjected to a mock execution. Once she has the order in her hands, Tosca stabs him to death.
At dawn in the prison, Tosca and Cavaradossi are reunited. She tells him his execution won't be for real, but Scarpia has tricked her and Cavaradossi falls dead to real bullets. Meanwhile, Scarpia's body has been discovered and the police arrive to arrest Tosca. With nowhere to escape, she jumps to her death from the prison walls.
The opera Tosca is now 102 years old. In moving the location and updating the story, Lin Hwai-min is working in a well-established operatic tradition.
Jonathan Miller famously set Rigoletto in Fascist Italy, and Peter Sellars set at least part of Le Nozze di Figaro on a New York garbage tip. Lin's updating sounds more appropriate than at least the latter. How Taipei audiences will react remains to be seen.
Tosca plays at the National Concert Hall on Dec. 31 and Jan. 2 at 7.30pm. Seats are currently available for both performances and are priced from NT$400 to NT$2,000. More information can be obtained from tel (02) 2343-1647.
When the BBC approached Caroline Chia (查慧中) in July 2018, and asked her to make arrangements so a documentary-making team could gather footage showing how global warming may be increasing typhoon intensity, she delivered everything that was in her power to provide. Chia got permission for the BBC crew to shoot inside the Central Emergency Operation Center, film the army’s disaster-relief efforts and follow mayors around as they supervised the cleaning up. “In total, it was about one week of work for my cousin — who’s my business partner — and I,” recalls Chia, who was born in Taipei but
Taiwan’s artist community was outraged when the authorities banned Lee Shih-chiao’s (李石樵) Reclining Nude (橫臥裸婦) from the 1936 Taiyang Art Exhibition (台陽美術展覽會). The Taiwan Daily News (台灣日日新報) reported that after hours of deliberation, the officials censored the piece for “contravening public morals.” Although the government did have rules on publicly displaying nude art, the state-run Taiwan Fine Art Exhibition regularly featured naked women, allowing more revealing pieces each year. On the same page, the newspaper ran a scathing criticism of the decision by an anonymous artist. “This is completely laughable … If they really thought [Reclining Nude] contravened public morals, they
John Thomson was a pioneering photographer in the 19th century and one of the first to journey to East Asia. In 1871, while in China he met Dr James Laidlaw Maxwell, a fellow Scotsman who was returning to Taiwan, where he served as a Presbyterian missionary. Maxwell’s description of Taiwan intrigued Thomson, and the photographer decided to accompany Maxwell to the island then known to Westerners as Formosa. Disembarking at Takow (today’s Kaohsiung) on April 2, 1871, Thomson brought with him the best photography equipment of his time, along with thousands of glass plates — an estimated 200kg of equipment. The
If you think Leaving Virginia is going to be Taiwan’s modern-day version of American Pie, leave after the first 15 minutes. It starts that way, an ode to those hormone-crazed teenage years as Big D (Isaac Yang, 楊懿軒) tries to lose his virginity on his 18th birthday but his Christian girlfriend rejects his advances and storms off. His best friend Zulie (Ng Siu Hin, 吳肇軒), convinces Big D that he will be rendered impotent if he doesn’t lose his virginity by the end of his 18th birthday, setting off the course of events. It feels like the rest of the film