Richard Trinder, Editor

Getting In Touch With Tosca

(L-R) Lesley Garthwaite, sight guide. Sarah Cernis, leader of Leeds Macular Support group. Jackie Watson
(L-R) Lesley Garthwaite, sight guide. Sarah Cernis, leader of Leeds Macular Support group. Jackie Watson
Puccini's famous opera Tosca has it all: luscious music, a storyline filled with politics, intrigue and passion, and has enthralled millions since its première in 1900. Like the best of operas, it is a spectacle in both sound and vision. Some even extend the sensory range with scratch cards - allowing the audience to sniff-along to the action. Extraordinary, but true!

But not all potential opera lovers can fully experience the entire range of senses. And not all budding Tosca fans have the mobility to squirrel away between the closely packed seats in Leeds' Grand Theatre. Lovely though it is, The Grand can be a bit of a mountaineering exercise.

All these reasons and more are the motivations behind Opera North's "VIP experience of Tosca", with its escorted backstage tour, followed by a touch tour of the stage and a live audio description during the performance itself.

We asked audience member Jackie Watson and her sighted guide Lesley Garthwaite to let us know what it was like:

Jackie says:

"Firstly, how lovely to hear a proper orchestra!!

"It was so helpful to be clearly told where we were to meet and what we were going to experience [in advance] so there were no insecurities. Before we came we were given a link to YouTube to watch highlights from the opera and given a brief synopsis of what was going on.

"We were escorted backstage and later on stage where we were shown the props and given a full explanation of where and when they were used.

"As a guide dog user I was pleased that they gave a 'loud noise warning' so I knew to organise a dog sitter and take my cane. Other productions please take note.

"My friend was allowed a ticket too - as a sight guide. This facility is not to be underestimated as, during the intervals, it's hard to find the toilets or to catch the eye of the bar staff.

"Possibly the biggest help of the event were the two lovely ladies who audio-described the actions, costumes and so on. This enabled us to pick up on little jokes and to anticipate what might happen next. The audio descriptions came to us via the headsets we were given at the start of the show.

"I believe the people who organised the accessibility were called Encore and they are to be praised along with Opera North for their successful efforts. This was evident by the sheer number of visually impaired people and wheelchair users who attended."

Lesley says:

"As a sighted person I felt that the tour was very interesting, with lots of attention given to explaining what was on the stage.

"Time was given so that members of the tour who were visually impaired were able to explore. The tour even went to where props were kept.

"It was well worth the time taken on the tour and [plenty of] time was allowed between the tour finishing and the opera starting to find seats and visit the facilities"

Jackie and Lesley's tour was organised by Sarah Cernis of the Macular Degeneration Support group at the Macular Society.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects around 700,000 people in the UK.

More details about Opera North's programmes can be found here.