A hundred and nineteen years ago this month, Puccini's opera "Tosca" premiered in Rome.
Last fall, Albuquerque's opera company, Opera Southwest, staged the opera, and I had the opportunity to photograph a working rehearsal as well as a full dress rehearsal before the show opened.
Most people attend and enjoy operas for the score and the singing. But of course photography doesn't come with a soundtrack. So what's the point of photographing an opera if you don't have the music?
My goal is to give the viewers of my work perspectives that they would not get if they were sitting in the audience. For a live opera audience, the entire stage is visible, and certainly to some degree full-stage spectacle is also part of the appeal of opera. But the more intimate and nuanced elements of the action -- small details of expression and gesture -- are difficult to see, even from a front-row seat.
However, with a good camera, a long lens, and freedom to move from side to side in the hall, I can put the viewer almost within the action on the stage. (Television and film productions of operas can do this too, via close-ups and camera positions that the audience could not be in.)
And fortunately, besides being superb singers, the singers are also excellent actors, communicating in gestures, facial expressions, and body language the emotions their characters are feeling as they sing. So in addition to documenting the overall visual elements, my job is to capture those smaller details that might go unseen from out in the audience (especially if you're sitting in the balcony).
Here's a simple example. Act I of the opera, set in the interior of a minor Roman basilica, closes with a major religious procession of parishoners, choir boys, nuns, priests, and a Cardinal of the church. The event fills the stage.
Against this joyful religious expression, however, Puccini sets the dark and powerful musings of Baron Scarpia, the villain in this opera (seen at right in the image above), who is plotting to possess Tosca and execute her lover, Cavaradossi.
As the act concludes, the full stage lighting dims and a spotlight directs the audience to look at Scarpia, who sings "Tosca, you make me forget even God."
And this is where my camera can get the viewer even closer to this powerful and dark affirmation.
The camera can also bring the viewer much closer to the action, capturing forever the fleeting expressions and body language.
Arias and duets, too, benefit from the intimacy of photography:
And a photograph can capture small but important plot details:
A key . . .
a fan . . .
and a knife.
And finally, the camera is great for capturing a beautifully lit or dramatic scene:
If you would like to see images from the entire dress rehearsal, as well as curtain calls, candids, and other images related to Opera Southwest's production of "Tosca," please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography," by clicking here.