The Guardian, 18 June 2008
A night at the opera
"The Guardian"- Experiment ('This artist is deeply dangerous'). What would happen if the Guardian's sports and arts writers swapped jobs? In yesterday's G2, arts critics tackled sport. Today, the sports team take on sculpture, opera, dance and music
Thomas Castaignède, Guardian rugby union columnist who won 54 caps for France between 1995 and 2007, on opera Tosca at Royal Opera House, London, June 2

As part of a correspondent swap, the rugby columnist Thomas Castaignède takes in Puccini's Tosca at the Royal Opera House

Madame Butterfly was my first and last experience of opera, but I was in my early teens and not in the best frame of mind to appreciate it. Adolescence had kicked in, and I was more worried about the girl sitting next to me than what was happening on stage.

So this performance of Tosca was a revelation. I've passed Covent Garden so many times, but I had no idea it was so beautiful inside. As a social phenomenon it surprised me as well - the champagne, the way the audience had dressed up, the feeling that people were there to be seen, as well as to see.

All those years ago I was too young to appreciate opera, so Tosca itself was a new world: the range of human emotions - jealousy, avarice, love, death, despair, hope - all reinforced by the power of the music. I wondered about the creative process behind it: which comes first, the libretto or the music, or are they born together?

Talking afterwards to the tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who played Cavaradossi, I came to the conclusion that there is a parallel between what you feel during a top-class rugby match and what an artist feels on stage - and it's not just the roar of the crowd. The people who are watching influence how you behave: they were viewing Kaufmann and driving him forward, just as they used to inspire me. I could empathise with Kaufmann's total concentration on the performance, and the way he had to become one with the orchestra, who gave him the power to go beyond the norm. There is a physical aspect to opera, certainly; but more than that, on stage you see what in rugby we call "automatisms" - where you become conditioned to move and act by pure instinct. I had a sense of two completely different worlds coming together.

There is an element of theatre in sport - certainly in France, and in French rugby. You are there to bring a smile to the crowds. You want them to have a good afternoon. There is no acceptance of mediocrity. You are putting yourself up to be judged every time you enter the arena.

Opera singers learn new roles with a new company. As a rugby player, I used to have to get to grips with new trainers, tactics and team-mates when moving from one club to another, or whenever I switched mid-season to playing for the French national team or an ad-hoc squad like the Barbarians.

But most of all, what I saw in Tosca was exactly what drew me to sport: the feeling of total passion in the performers. I just love to watch people giving it everything - in any walk of life - which is why, since coming to England, I have even come to appreciate cricket.

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