This new production by John Bell for Opera Australia is controversial and is sharply dividing audiences and critics alike. It is dark, bleak and has volcanically passionate undertones.
This challenging, unsettling revival has seen the narrative reset to Rome in the 1940’s, with the Nazi occupation. Guns, death and violence everywhere – beware!
Musically the production is superb, with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra under the baton of maestro Christian Badea playing superbly. At a couple of points one could hear hints of his ‘ Madama Butterfly’ , ‘Turandot ‘ and ‘ La Boheme’ – sometimes starkly dramatic , sometimes lyrically passionate.
Special mention must be made of the more than wonderful opulent Baroque church set design for Act 1. Act 2 is far more sinister, Scarpia’s office is dominated by a long table and huge Swastika banners. I also liked the large windows. Act 3 is even darker and greyer with a huge staircase and barbed wire as the interior of a prison camp.
As Floria Tosca, Alexia Voularidou is sensational – a riveting actress and singer and her Act 2 gown, in particular, is stunning. Alexia is every inch a diva with a pure top range. She plays a jealous flirtatious minx , charming and delightful , in Act 1, and a strong woman out to save her lover in the other two acts.
Her duets with Cavaradossi are tremendous and her torn, pleading ‘Vissi d’arte’ full of fear and anguish in Act 2 stops the show .A quibble however would be that her murder of Scarpia , Medea like, yet also in self defence, with bloodied hands, caused squirms , murmurs and some shocked laughter in the audience.
As Cavaradossi, our tormented painter hero, Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee is in fine voice. He sings at full throttle through the entire show- I would perhaps have liked a little more light and shade. His big aria in Act 1 ‘Recondita armonia’ is beautifully sung and his letter aria ‘E Lucevan le stelle’ in Act 3 was marvelous. In Act II, Mario’s fiery defiance of his captors includes tearing down one of the Swastika decorations, which was later used by Tosca to cover the dead Scarpia (a deft use of the “crooked cross” in place of the standard crucifix).
As Iago -like cold, malevolent Baron Scarpia, John Wegner is chillingly brilliant with a rumbling bass. He is narcissistic, confident and takes what he wants whenever he wants it. Menacing and implacable, his explosive volcanic impulses are barely controlled and hidden. His hypocritical leading of the Act 1 finale is thrilling. In Act 2 he molests the only woman officer present and no one tries to stop him. Rome trembles with fear.
Escaped prisoner Angelotti, Cavaradossi’s friend, was marvelously sung by David Parkin. John Bolton Wood had great fun in Act1 as the sacristan, and the children’s choir was delightful. Another excellent imaginative piece of stage drama was during the introduction at the beginning of Act 3 where we see a number of yellow-star-wearing Jewish people managing to bribe their way out of prison just in time , the ‘shepherd boy ‘ aria neatly fitting in here .
A darkly disturbing revival, thrillingly sung. Running time is 3 hours including two intervals.
Opera Australia’s TOSCA, runs various dates in repertory at the Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House until August 31, 2013.