I recently saw two stage productions here in London. The first being Tosca from the English National Opera and the second being War Horse by the National Theatre. Both were brilliant experiences, and worth a visit.
The ENO’s production of Tosca was top notch. Singers, sets, costumes, lighting and the orchestra were all brilliant. The staging of everything made sense and it moved along quite well. What bugged me the most was how it was in English. I know that’s what the ENO is all about, but it feels like a bad idea in every way to me. There were some moments that were ruined because of the English translation. What kills me is that they were singing in English with English supertitles. If the whole idea of singing in English is for the audience’s understanding, pray tell, why are there supertitles? It’s either redundant or a necessity. Let’s just keep the supertitles and do the opera in the language it was written for.
In my group I was pretty much the only person who had seen this opera before or even had an idea of what it was about. To everyone it was a completely new experience. I got a lot of requests from people to tell them what the opera was about. In any other case I usually wax poetic about the whole deal, but in this case I decided against it. When I first saw Tosca I knew everything and the whole time I kept thinking “I wish I was experiencing this for the first time.” This opera is based off an Italian melodrama and itself is the epitome of “Verismo” opera. It’s all about surprise and unexpected twists. I think that’s one of the reasons why it was so successful at its premiere. The first audience was just blown out of the water by the drama of it all. Since I couldn’t have that experience anymore, I wanted to let everyone around me have it instead. A lot of people expressed gratitude as it helped them enjoy it even more.
Last night I saw War Horse with a few friends. Now it was my turn. Unlike Tosca, I had no idea what this play was about. I had heard great things about it from people I trust so I figured it couldn’t be all that bad. I was not let down. It’s incredible. What a powerfully moving work. Everything in the production was brilliantly executed. One of the most incredible parts about the production was the puppetry. It requires the use of several onstage horses, but of course getting horses to act is virtually impossible. Instead, the horses were all life size puppets. Each horse took three puppeteers. While obviously puppets, there were some moments when I honestly forgot that.
At the end, I got teary-eyed. I don’t remember the last time a stage production moved me that much. At the end of Tosca, I was breathless, but not moved like this. It was quite the experience. Walking back to the tube stop though, I started to wonder about what I was supposed to learn from this story. It was a poignant and touching story, very well told, which is enough for me, but I kept wondering what I should do differently now. There are some obvious ones: World War I was futile and accomplished nothing. We’ve got more common loves we should focus on than common hatreds.
I woke up this morning and the thought occurred to me that maybe, unknowingly, it taught that God is real and that he loves us. World War I bred a great deal of atheism and agnostics. People felt that God had either abandoned them or didn’t exist. The thought was “How could God allow this to happen? Where was God when my sons/brothers/father died?” The spirituality in England still hasn’t recovered. I feel that this production taught that God was there, guiding us and helping us. The story, to me, is nothing less than miraculous.