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Tosca - Opera Australia (NSW)

Composed by Giacomo Puccini, Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa.


A provocative and thrilling production of this timeless story of lust, corruption and betrayal.


Reviewed by Claira Prider

Opera Australia, Sydney Opera House

Playing until August 16th, 2024


Content Warning: Production references moments of sexual assault and self harm


During the late 1800s, Italian composer Giacomo Puccini lived through a time where Europe saw a radical desacralization of sacred spaces and a great rise of secularism. Writers and composers were tasked with creating a response to their rapidly changing world, which saw the rise of Verismo opera. Verismo meaning realism, refers to a style of opera and literature where works reflect the real world with no frills (unlike previously, where opera plots were based on gods and spirits, kings and queens). In true Verismo style, Tosca depicts lives of the poor, as well as torture, rape, murder, and suicide, which original audiences found vile and confronting. Yet there’s something so timeless about a political thriller with a corrupt head of police, where all of the main characters end up dead. 


Directed by Edward Dick, this Opera North production moves the staging from 1800 Rome to a present-day setting, where a golden dome, painted with the face of Mary Magdalene serves as an evolving set piece throughout. The entire work takes place over 24 hours, where renowned Prima Donna, Floria Tosca is in love with Cavaradossi, an artist who’s helping to hide escaped prisoner Angelotti in the cathedral he’s painting. In search of Angelotti, police chief Scarpia comes across the lovers, capturing Cavaradossi and forcing Tosca to watch to him being tortured as she’s forced to choose between unwanted sex with Scarpia, or her lovers’ death. 


In the last Tosca I reviewed, I discussed how the production highlighted the ever-expanding divide between church and state. But Dick’s production has me thinking about how church and state are disturbingly similar – both swarming with corruption, discrimination and abuse of power. This production does not shy away from the provocative nature of the plot and relevance the story it holds in today's society.



Tosca, Sydney Opera House (2024). Photos by Keith Saunders


Act I takes place in the Sant'Andrea della Valle Basilica where the 'Te-Deum' chorus sees the religious procession turn into what could have been confused with a political appearance, with the wealthy and well dressed up the front amidst a bell ringing, flag waving spectacle. This staging highlights the writings' juxtaposing of the chorus hymn with Scarpia's anticipation of his conquest of Tosca. Act II takes place in Palazzo Farnese, and the final act set in Castel Sant'Angelo, sees the dome shaped set piece rotated vertically, allowing stars from the nights sky to shine through and it becomes the balcony window from which Tosca jumps to her death. While I enjoyed this productions' addition of henchmen, there were elements that felt out of place such as the delivery of tasering, and the laptop through which Tosca witnessed Cavaradossi's torture. Lee Curran’s lighting uses vertical rows of stadium-strong lights in a semi-circle across the back of the stage, contrasting boldly with the bays of votive candles sitting directly in front. Much of the lighting design sees the most vulnerable of moments spotlit, reinforcing the surveillance-state, corruptness of the world on stage.


Allen delivers the most powerful and committed 'Vissi D'arte' I've ever witnessed.

Young Woo Kim’s Cavaradossi is heroic and passionate, his characters’ intensity matching the squillo brilliance and resonance of his vocal performance. He gives a particularly beautiful performance of ‘E lucevan le stelle’. The lovers in the first act seem to lack warmth in their chemistry, however both individually brilliant performances soon meld for a much richer coupling in the second and third act.  Giselle Allen’s Tosca, is so humane it’s breathtaking; vocally rich and disarmingly vulnerable, her performance has been on my mind ever since opening night. When trying to learn more about this magnetic performer, I came across a 2023 Manchester Theatres interview with Allen, where her explanation around preparing the character articulates exactly why I think her portrayal is so successful; “When I’m on stage I’m not myself, I’m Tosca and everything I react to is a truthful reaction to what he’s doing to me. And it’s why the big aria that I sing ‘Vissi D’arte’ that is often taken as a ‘oh here’s the big soprano aria coming up’ but I don’t do it like that, because to me, she’s absolutely broken, and it’s not about the singing then, it’s totally about the emotion of this broken woman who’s lying on the floor.’ Allen delivers the most powerful and committed 'Vissi D'arte' I've ever witnessed.


Gevorg Hakobyan is genuinely terrifying as the mobster-esque Scarpia. His physicality is slick and menacing and his rich, dark timbre conveys the lust and anger of the role perfectly. The incredibly strong cast are rounded out by Benjamin Rasheed as Spoletta, Luke Gabbedy as Sciarrone, David Parkin as Angelotti, Andrew Moran as Sacristan, Anthony Mackey as Gaoler wtih Alexander Hugo Young and Bede Egerton-Warburton as the young shepherd boy.


this production of Tosca turns up the ante on this thriller, blockbuster of an opera.

Under the baton of Johannes Fritzsch, Puccini's explosive score, fills every crevice of the Joan Sutherland Theatre, with the Opera Australia Orchestra and Opera Australia Chorus.

Alongside some of Puccini’s most exciting writing, filled with exceptional vocal performances, you can expect a surprisingly relatable storyline. Political prisoners, corrupt police force, sexual politics, religious oppression, cold blooded murder and suicide - this production of Tosca turns up the ante on this thriller, blockbuster of an opera.



 

Cast & Creatives


CONDUCTOR

Johannes Fritzsch (Jun 25–Jul 18)

Tahu Matheson (Jul 27–Aug 16)


DIRECTOR

Edward Dick


SET DESIGNER

Tom Scutt


COSTUME DESIGNER

Fotini Dimou


LIGHTING DESIGNER

Lee Curran


CHOREOGRAPHER

Maxine Braham


ASSISTANT DIRECTOR

Warwick Doddrell


TOSCA

Giselle Allen (Jun 25–Jul 18)

Karah Son (Jul 27–Aug 16)


CAVARADOSSI

Young Woo Kim


SCARPIA

Gevorg Hakobyan (Jun 25–Jul 27)

Warwick Fyfe (Jul 31–Aug 16)


SPOLETTA

Benjamin Rasheed


SCIARRONE

Luke Gabbedy


ANGELOTTI

David Parkin


SACRISTAN

Andrew Moran


GAOLER

Anthony Mackey


SHEPHERD BOY

Alexander Hugo Young (25 Jun, 2, 6, 18, 27 Jul, and 7, 10, 14 Aug)

Bede Egerton-Warburton (29 Jun, 4, 10, 13, 31 Jul, and 3, 12, 16 Aug)


Opera Australia Orchestra

Opera Australia Chorus


 


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