Act 8: Lively 8
The storyline of Puccini’s ‘Tosca’, was simple – the tenor and the soprano were in love while the baritone hindered them from between.
Well, it was an extremely common love story but… weren’t all dramas these days pretty much the same? The general interest of people perhaps wasn’t too different a hundred years ago, since they liked the same muddled up love stories.
Thinking that, I dully stared at the stage when Han Dasom softly started a conversation from the side.
“Is it starting now?”
“I think it will soon.”
Throwing my eyes to the side, I found Han Dasom observing the surroundings with a curious gaze. I copied her by slowly glancing around.
The Opera Theatre of the Arts Centre which prided itself with over 2000 seats, was currently packed with the comers and goers.
There were people wearing suits, families wearing casual clothes as well as lovers with beautiful clothes…
At first, I was surprised by the sheer number of people but soon came to an understanding. Indeed, since it was the performance of that ‘La Stella’, it was obvious that the hall was fully reserved and even the second and third floors were completely filled.
After observing the people behind, I turned back towards the front.
Within the countless seats, the ones we were sitting on were on the first floor. On top of that, it was a great location, placed near the very centre of the seats and could see the entire stage!
As expected of Future Arts High.
I hadn’t been expecting much because it was a free ticket and had never thought that it would be such a good seat. The cost would’ve been no joke though…
While having such materialistic thoughts, I was satisfied with the seats when I found Han Dasom fidgeting with a piece of paper from the side. Upon closer inspection, I realised that it was a pamphlet, detailing the series of programmes, the list of performers as well as a rough outline of the story.
It suddenly hit me but the performance would be done in Italian and Han Dasom would probably have a hard time understanding it. Her Italian wasn’t that fluent yet after all.
After some thought, I opened my mouth.
“You don’t mind some spoilers right?”
“Un…? I don’t really mind…”
“Because I can’t open my mouth during the performance, I’ll tell you now.”
This opera which was based in Rome during the 1800’s, had the soprano, ‘Tosca’ as the protagonist. It was probably evident how important her role was in this opera, from how the opera itself was called ‘Tosca’.
In any case, the two’s love was shaken by the baritone’s tricks. The baritone attempted to shake the soprano by saying that the tenor had a different woman and when that didn’t work, he forced the tenor to a death sentence…
It was an opera with the main theme being jealousy.
Hearing up to there, Han Dasom shrank her body slightly.,
“I… I see… Then what happens to the two?”
“The tenor dies after being thrown into the baritone’s plot and the soprano commits suicide.”
I was talking with Han Dasom when the lights started being turned off one by one. Soon, the surroundings became quiet as the conductor walked up and gave a greeting.
There were rounds of applause as the orchestra members nervously waited for the signal inside the darkened hall of the quiet audience. From within all that, the conductor strongly waved his arms as the energetic sounds of the instruments marked the start of Tosca.
I thought while watching an actor running up onto the stage.
It felt like it had been a while since I had directly watched Tosca like this. After quitting the ensemble, I consciously avoided and distanced myself from classical music so… how many years has it been?
Waking up from my flashback, I looked forward and saw the first scene of the opera taking place.
An old actor was hiding inside a cathedral. He then started a soliloquy to describe the dangerous situation he was in and wow… I couldn’t help but admire it.
I’m pretty sure that person had retired around 5 years ago but his voice was still good. His thunderous voice reflected the well-maintained body and on top of that was the emotional aspects unique to old veteran actors and… it was no joke.
Like that, I appreciated the performance blankly with my chin dropped.
‘Look at how he’s setting his emotions up. How are the emotions coming across despite it being a recitativo?’
‘As expected of La Stella I guess. I can draw the scene in my head with my eyes closed from just the words.’
‘He seems to be embedding emotions into every single word, but how in the world is he doing that?’
Various thoughts flashed past my head.
The process of learning to embed ‘emotions’ which I was passionately researching into was probably something that those great seniors had already gone through.
How do they do it though?
After glaring daggers at the actors, I started analysing every single movement, and every single sound of theirs.
What was this gesture intending to do, and what grammatical mechanism was behind those words?
In the midst of the thorough observations, a sudden enlightenment popped up in my head and I widened my eyes.
The pronunciation was different.
Understanding up to that, I quickly racked my brain.
When I’m singing, I try to gently connect the sounds, so that there aren’t any parts sticking out. It was like an operation I always did by polishing the sounds to ensure the song flowed like a smooth linen.
So that it could become a beautiful song.
However, the veteran actors acting right now were slightly different.
Even though they’re most likely native Italians, they tend to intentionally make some of their sounds stick out, so that the accent would get stuck on a few words while talking.
Until now, I thought they were either mistakes or their personal unique expressions but now that I heard them directly, I could understand.
They were doing that to enliven the emotions.
Don’t people stutter their words or change their pronunciations when they’re filled with emotions? I guess it was the same with songs.
‘There was a method like this…’
Feeling the strange enlightenment, I nodded my head before glancing at Han Dasom. She was staring at the stage without much thought.
Hmm… she didn’t feel anything huh. Well, I guess she was still in her first grade of high school which was a bit too early to learn opera.
While I was organising the thoughts and enlightenments, the protagonist appeared.
Onto the stage entered a large male with the clothes of an old artist. He had an unkempt beard resembling a pirate and it was obvious that the hair was barely being held up after countless tries.
My chin dropped unconsciously.
Why is the teacher there…?
I rubbed my eyes and stared back at the stage but it was teacher Kwak Jungsoo no matter how I saw it.
That build, that face and… that voice.
It was a voice I could never forget.
I blankly stared at teacher Kwak Jungsoo singing the aria before throwing a glance to the side to find Han Dasom staring at me with a dumbfounded look.
But seriously, what was happening?
On the day I received the ticket, the teacher’s name wasn’t there on the list and I could be certain of that. It was the tenor of Tosca which was pretty much like a protagonist so was it possible for me to not look into it? I had naturally remembered the name.
But what happened? Did the tenor cancel his schedule a few days before the performance?
Startled, I quickly searched through the pamphlet and discovered teacher Kwak Jungsoo’s name etched proudly into it.
‘…He was put in as a substitute huh.’
…Well, it wasn’t something super rare I guess, but it seemed that teacher Kwak Jungsoo had some connections with the La Stella opera company. Although it was a substitute, it still would’ve been hard to join.
While I was watching blankly, the performance neared its climax.
Teacher Kwak Jungsoo had fallen into the baritone’s trap as the day of the death sentence loomed upon him. On the day before the death sentence, a lonesome accompaniment started echoing through with Teacher Kwak Jungsoo in the background, writing a will to send to his lover, ‘Tosca’.
And the stars were shining – E lucevan le stelle.
The song which was considered to be the most famous aria of the opera, Tosca, escaped teacher Kwak Jungsoo’s lips.
“E lucevan le stelle…”
[And the stars were shining…]
Hearing the first verse, I quickly came to myself and focused.
Opera arias were special.
It was probably well-known that musicals required acting and singing to be done at the same time but what wasn’t very well-known, was the fact that a ‘musical’ was a genre that came off of opera.
That was why opera, the original, had to naturally incorporate both singing and acting like musicals. The song itself was the dialogue, and the song itself was the story.
That was why it was difficult.
Unlike art songs like lieder that only had lyrics, arias had background stories. There were other actors to share the song with and there were characters that had to give out lines.
It was important to understand the world view of the song before singing in line with it, and was different from just simply singing it.
Was that the end?
In operas, there was another enemy which the singers had to face.
“Entrava ella fragrante…”
[Fragrant, she entered…]
As teacher Kwak Jungsoo slowly went through the lyrics, the instruments gave out their powerful echoes.
Inside the large pit in front of the stage, I could see dozens of instruments filling the hole. The sounds roaring out from there got louder, perhaps in an attempt to bury teacher Kwak Jungsoo’s voice.
Without falling back, the teacher raised his own volume.
An accompaniment – it was but an accompaniment. The protagonist of the song couldn’t be buried, and the lyrics had to be properly conveyed.
To achieve that, opera singers had to win against dozens of instruments all alone with their bodies.
And the teacher had achieved it.
“…le belle forme disciogliea– dai veli!”
[…the beautiful shapes dissolved– by the veils!]
With his confident, reaching voice, he set the emotions up. He controlled the strong and soft notes however he wanted and lastly, he ripped through the veils of the orchestra and conveyed the song to the ears of the audience.
Only those who could maintain the ardent expressions and emotions while defeating the orchestra and ring the hearts of the audience could be called first-class singers.
Exactly like the respected teacher Kwak Jungsoo.
“Tanto la vita!”
[Loved life so much!]
Suddenly, I felt my heart thump.
I could see teacher Kwak Jungsoo singing as the protagonist – the sole source of light above the stage, giving off a beautiful song above all sounds.
I want to stand there as well.
Listening to the rounds of applause that seemed to resonate through the walls of the Opera Theatre,
I closed my eyes.
After asking around, we had finally arrived at the actors’ waiting room. When I looked for the teacher by asking for the actor with his name, he soon walked out with the makeup still on which appeared quite amusing.
I waved my hands with delight and soon could see him widening his eyes.
Seeing him like that, I grinned before explaining everything. His expression changed frequently during the whole conversation from doubt, to surprise and finally to dejection. With a hollow laugh, he opened his mouth.
“So in other words… you won the prize of that UCC or whatever, which was an opera ticket and when you came, I was the main character?”
“Well. I intentionally didn’t even tell you to give you a surprise but what a coincidence.”
But thinking about it, it was in fact quite intriguing. Did they choose a Korean tenor because they were performing in Korea?
“Anyway, it’s good because I got to see you earlier.”
While I was having such thoughts, the teacher disheveled my hair with a smile before suddenly glancing to the side. Han Dasom who had been standing quietly quickly bowed her head.
“Hello teacher. I’m Han Dasom…!”
“…Uh, right. Han Dasom…”
Receiving the greeting, the teacher tilted his head and blinked his eyes. After a while of pondering and observing Han Dasom, the teacher finally clicked his fingers and opened his mouth.
“Ah, I knew I saw you somewhere. It was from the UCC video yeah? You were the student that was singing with him right?”
Seeing Han Dasom’s expression which became brighter for some reason, the teacher nodded his head.
“Hmm. Right… Nice to meet you and, should we first go somewhere else?”
Since it was nearing dinner time, we carried our feet over to a restaurant and ordered some light meals. After glancing at the waiter leaving with a menu, the teacher threw his gaze at us and asked how we had been.
After a back and forth of some talks like ‘Have you been well?’, ‘We have been well.’, ‘How about you teacher?’ and ‘Well not bad’, the teacher casually opened his lips.
“By the way, you two must have been in the middle of a date, so was it thoughtless of me to just come in?”
Han Dasom quickly gave him a reply.
“No…! It’s okay sir. Please, don’t mind.”
I was watching Han Dasom’s lips which were for some reason raised bashfully when the teacher opened his mouth after placing the cup down.
“So, did you enjoy the performance?”
“Yes. You were so good.”
Seriously, it was to the point that it surprised me.
Usually, we could tell how satisfied the audience was by seeing how long the claps went on for after the arias, and the teacher received a long applause that lasted for roughly a few minutes.
‘It means that everyone was satisfied by his song.’
Feeling proud, I nodded my head when the memories of the past suddenly hit me.
Wait, although he was good, was he always this great? It oddly felt like he was better than before and… it didn’t seem to match my memories.
‘Maybe he ate something good in Italy?’
I was tilting my head in thought when he suddenly pushed his upper body out and gazed into my eyes. His faint smiling appearance filled my sight.
“Good. It’s good since you’ve watched the performance.”
He glanced at me for a while before soon tapping on the table and opening his mouth.
“You asked about ‘emotions’ on kakaotalk yeah? Opera is the best cure for that.”
Tilting my head, I flashed my eyes wide open.