By Dan Paterson
Welcome to Vancouver Opera’s production of Tosca. It has been my pleasure to play a part in bringing this production of Puccini’s beloved opera to the stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
Tosca is one of the best-loved pieces in the established operatic repertoire, and one of the most often produced. The different versions of the production are too many and varied to list here. This particular production originated at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City in 2009. There are few things in this world more expensive to produce than opera, so (as is the case with most productions) this set was built to be rented and used again by as many producing companies as possible. Vancouver Opera is the first Canadian company to stage this particular production.
This is a very traditional production and as such does not use a lot of modern technical devices (such as video projections) to advance the plot and action. In fact, many of the technical elements that we use in this production were available and utilized when Tosca premiered at the Teatro Costanzi in 1900. For example, you may notice that the floor (we call it the "show deck") in this production is a raked stage: the height of the main playing area increases from downstage to upstage. This particular stage has a 5 degree rake: the downstage edge of the show deck is 6” high and increases by 1 inch for every foot you travel upstage, for a total increase of 16”. This means that every surface that we put on the raked stage – desks, chairs, tables, staircases – needs to be “counter-raked”. Thus, we need to build the legs of all these items at different lengths so that the surfaces remain level (which keeps wine glasses and pens from rolling into the orchestra pit!).
One of the largest technical elements we use today that was not available back in 1900 is the full array of theatrical lighting. While the incandescent lamp was available to the original production at Teatro Costanzi, the world of lighting for the stage has expanded and evolved exponentially since then. We now have available to us programmable, moving lights that change colours and patterns all at the press of a button. Our Lighting Designer on this show, Gerald King, is a true master of the craft and creates a world that moves from joyous and naturalistic to cold and sinister as the villainous Scarpia comes to dominate the action of the opera. Take note in Act III of the transition and slow progression from the dead of night to dawn’s early light. Just as Puccini used Wagnerian leitmotifs (short musical statements) to identify characters, keep an eye out for how Gerald uses the lights and changes in the tone and texture of the lights to indicate the different characters that appear throughout the story as it unfolds.
In the end, all the technical aspects utilized in the production are here to support the show. At the heart of this and all operas is the music. Tosca contains some of the most beloved, memorable and moving music you will ever hear, so sit back, relax and enjoy the show.
Dan Paterson is Vancouver Opera’s Technical Director.