Fri, Dec 27, 2002 - Page 17 News List

NSO introduces Tosca to the triads

In a new production, the orchestra's ambitious artistic director has decided to set `Tosca' in Taipei and perform the full work in the National Concert Hall

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

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.

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 (陳妍陵), the Ilan-born soprano who has studied in Italy. She was heard as Ortlinde, one of the Valkyries, in Chien Wen-pin's concert performance of Act Three of Wagner's Die Walkure last May.

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.

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