BLO welcomed 400 high school and college students from all over the greater Boston area free of charge to the Final Dress Rehearsal of Tosca. For a majority of these students, this was their first opera experience. Here are some of their impressions.
From the moment the curtain rose, students were captivated. “The costumes and set design really brought me into the 19th century Italy and out of Boston,” remarked Zoe Salvalo-Cuffer, a junior in high school. Her classmate, Andrew Ferrari, chimed in mentioning that at “certain times during the opera I felt like I was actually there.”
Ramya Shivaraman Iyer, an undergraduate at Northeastern, was struck by “How human Tosca was. She was silly in some scenes, and blinded by a youthful jealousy. She was too hopeful and gave in too quickly to Mario being tortured (according to Mario, anyway).” Iyer was particularly moved when, “Tosca killed Scarpia! It seems so unusual that the woman would be the strong heroine to kill the mean and imposing police chief, and she says so herself—‘killed by a woman!’” Fellow Northeastern student Daniel Hathaway, concurred, noting, “My favorite part was when Tosca murdered Scarpia and reveled in having bested such a powerful man. I liked that she handled the situation herself really effectively and tricked a man, even though it obviously didn't work out [for her in the end.]”
Several students commented on Daniel Sutin’s convincing portrayal of Scarpia, picking up on the association to Shakespeare’s villain in Othello. “The acting and stage presence from Sutin made the audience hate Scarpia from the moment he set foot on stage,” noted Rachel Myer from Medford High School.
Many students were awe-struck by the power and passion conveyed through the ensemble: At the “end of the first act, with the chorus and singers singing so loudly, was impressive. It was unlike anything I've ever heard before!” Northeastern student Shadia Tannir remarked, “Just so powerful and impressive. I think it's unbelievable that the singers don't use mics. That theater was pretty big, and to have no amplification and to still fill the theater is amazing.” Another student wrote about how powerful the chorus’ voices were all singing together, “Their passion and the projection of their voices in the opera room was absolutely amazing.”
Charlestown High School teacher, who brought a group of students recounted, “I had a student ask me 2 minutes into the opera, ‘Miss, are they singing live? Or is it a recording?’ She was thoroughly impressed. And for all of [my students] who are English language learners, it was perfect to have subtitles on the side. When I asked them about it the next day, many of them said, ‘I loved it!’”
Students’ stereotypes of opera were dispelled as well. One student comments, “Knowing I was going to Tosca, I went to YouTube and tried to listen to the opera. After three minutes, I had to shut it off—it was too much ‘opera’ and I couldn't take it. But during the show, it wasn't annoying or anything at all. Instead, it was so intense and dramatic and I thought the music was really good for drawing the audience in. I've listened to the opera once since Wednesday, and it's suddenly so much more manageable. I'm glad to have had the introduction to opera!”
Another high school teacher mentioned that one of her students who she sat next to “was very struck by the ways the opera dealt with the power dynamics of class and gender. He was chatting with me all through intermission—and afterward—drawing connections to things he was learning in his classes, as well as what he sees in the news. He was also blown away by how beautiful and powerful the singing and the visuals were!”
The music was clearly central to the students’ experience, many noted their favorite singer, the emotions, and the beauty in their voices. One high school student commented, “The singing and the costumes were incredible, but what really stood out was the orchestra.” College student, Alyssa Hopkin, from The Boston Conservatory at Berklee agreed, specifically commenting on her observation of the conductor. She noted, “It was SO engaging to be able to see Maestro Stern, especially during the final chorus of Act I. The singers were producing so much sound and energy yet physically were so still that it was deceptive to how much work was actually being done. Then to look in the upper left corner and see the Maestro creating and really embodying all of that energy… gave chills to the audience.”
High school freshman Renata Del Vecchio remarked, “After it was done, I almost forgot that in everyday life people don’t sing to each other constantly!” Yet, her classmate, Colin Baily, summed it up nicely: “I have absolutely no words. It was just completely beautiful!” He plans to attend another opera soon!