You don’t just go someplace when you go to the opera—the opera takes you someplace!.
But while Opera transports, it is hardly an accurate travel guide.
Consider the latest two treasures from the Met Live Simulcast.
Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers) set in Ceylon.
Puccini’s Turandot set in Peking, China.
Since neither Bizet nor Puccini had traveled to the Orient, logical to bypass any resemblance to reality, and set the scenes in ancient times, creating the proper atmosphere of mystery and magic necessary for these rather outlandish stories.
Both Bizet and Puccini it might be noted did set other operas very specific to time and place. Carmen is set in Serville while Tosca is possibly has the most detailed of any opera.
Although the historical events are out of order in Tosca, but there is no question about the scenes being well known tourist spots in Rome. This was not only the beginning of opera verismo, but taking it down to the fine print.
But let’s go back to the beaches of Ceylon that would lure one to go beachcombing to the South Seas where one would hear beautiful singing by a goddess-priestess in the background. Or up to staircase in China that might have inspired Busby Berkley dance screen extravaganzas.
Both of these operas defy arguments which historical interpretations of Carmen and Tosca generate. But while Carmen, (the cigarette factory girl/revolutionary gypsy) and Tosca (the star diva of the Roman stage) are both larger than life characters, they have could be real women in similar events of their time period.
But Lelia and Turnadot?
While the Met’s lavish tech-y creation of Les Pêcheurs de Perles in a modern setting with details from wrist watches to tsumani waves would have been as foreign to Bizet as the ancient setting which he places his opera, and while the friendship-jealousy of the two men is as new as it is old, and while a crowd gathering to punish adultery by death is not far from our daily news, there is still something about this Lalia, a goddess-priestess, that remains the stuffing of fantasy.
This production has been well described in the reviews but to add my opinion to this —the opera has been waiting for this presentation, one that it deserves! One that moves you into another space of the imagination, something that travel guides teases.
In the meantime, let’s go to the opera movie!
FOOTNOTE ON TOSCA
Tosca moves from the chapel in the church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale in Rome on the afternoon of 17 June 1800, to a chamber in the Farnese Palace on the evening of 17 June 1800, to a country villa on the night of 17 June 1800, to Scarpia's apartments in the Castel Sant'Angelo before the dawn of 18 June 1800, and to the chapel at the Castel Sant'Angelo and a platform on the roof of the castle at dawn on 18 June 1800.
Not only does Tosca go to the church of Sant’Andrea, she goes to a specific chapel, that of the Barberini Chapel.
If you want to go check it out in person, see this site for details: