I receive invitations to all sorts of events, from book launches to gardening demonstrations. Most have limited appeal. It takes a lot to get me out of my comfortable home-working bubble.
But, when you’re offered two tickets to the English National Opera (ENO) at The Coliseum, you go.
My early theatrical memories include falling asleep on the floor during Coppelia at the Royal Albert, and sneezing very loudly during a pause in the music in West Side Story’s post-rumble death scene.
I do love a good musical, but tickets are so expensive these days. An evening out for two with a pre-theatre meal can easily set you back £200.
I have never been to the opera before. I’m not sure if it’s the warbling, the perceived snobbery or the price – probably a combination of all three. Plus you can’t really sing along to the cast recording back at home.
Opera Undressed is an ENO programme to encourage first time opera visitors. The ticket price of £20 includes a great seat in the house; a pre-performance chat about the production; an outline of the opera in advance and the opportunity to attend a post-show party, with the cast and company members.
To help the ENO get the message out about Opera Undressed, I was invited to see Tosca, an opulent and dramatic rollercoaster story of love, lust, murder and political intrigue by Puccini.
My date for the night (Dad) was stuck in traffic, so on arrival I got stuck into a gin and tonic in the bar, before joining the other Opera Undressed guests for the pre-show talk. We were invited into the empty auditorium to hear about the history of Tosca. The Chorus Lead, James Henshaw talked us through the opera from a performer’s perspective.
Dad arrived with five minutes to spare before the performance started. I greeted him with a large scotch and a bar of chocolate. He looked like he needed it.
Tosca is set in Rome during the time of Napoleon’s invasion. It’s a tragic love story, with a strong female lead (Floria Tosca played by Keri Alkema); an honourable artist (Gwyn Hughes Jones as Cavaradossi) and a corrupt and lecherous baddie (Craig Colclough in the part of Scarpia).
During the interval we were taken to see the Royal Box and meet Cressida Pollock, the ENO’s passionate CEO. Cressida is on a mission to make Opera accessible to everyone. She explained how singing in English helps the audience to better connect with the onstage action, and to immerse themselves in the music, rather than spending their energy trying to interpret the story.
The ENO makes 500 tickets available for every opera performance for £20 or less. Or you can go for a ‘secret seat’ where you buy a £20 unallocated seat online and are guaranteed a seat worth £30 or more on the night. Some of those secret seats will be in the dress circle and stalls. You might be one of the lucky ones to get one worth over £100.
We didn’t make it to the after-show party unfortunately, although I’m told it’s an opportunity to meet with the cast and crew over a few drinks.
Being such a heathen, I don’t really have the vocabulary to review an Opera. What can I tell you? The staging was dramatic, the story was compelling and being in English with surtitles made it easy to follow.
There was warbling, unavoidable in opera and it’s not my favourite type of music. But you really can’t fail to be impressed and amazed by the purity and power of the singers’ unamplified voices.
The orchestra’s music, conducted by Oleg Caetani was stunning and filled every corner of The Coliseum’s huge auditorium – the largest in the West End by the way.
I found the whole evening to be a unique and glorious experience. It’s only £20 and I urge you to try it.
Dad wasn’t familiar with the plot of Tosca, but he warned me in advance that in opera, everyone dies. Tosca didn’t disappoint.
Much love. Vx[Disclosure: not sponsored, but my huge thanks to the ENO for inviting me and my Dad to enjoy Opera Undressed.]