Tosca: Puccini’s masterpiece even better under John Bell’s direction

February 23, 2021 by Victor Grynberg
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Since its premiere in Rome in 1900 at a time of political unrest, Giacomo Puccini’s opera of the Vincent Sardou French-language play “La Tosca” has been one of the most popular pieces in the whole operatic repertoire…writes Victor Grynberg.

Alexander Hargreaves as Sciaronne, Graeme Macfarlane as Spoletta, Diego Torre as Cavaradossi, Marco Vratogna as Scarpia in Opera Australia’s 2021 production of Tosca at the Sydney Opera House.
Photo Credit: Prudence Upton

Set originally in a strife-torn Rome of 1800 with the conflict between Napoleon the attacker and the Kingdom of Naples (the occupier), this drama about an escaped prisoner, ill-fated lovers, the painter Mario Cavaradossi and his extremely beautiful girlfriend, opera diva Floria Tosca, and the evil army commander Scarpia, Puccini’s magnificent score has always enraptured the audience.

Diego Torre as Cavaradossi and Carmen Giannattasio as Tosca in Opera Australia’s 2021 production of Tosca at the Sydney Opera House.
Photo Credit: Prudence Upton

When acclaimed Australian actor and director John Bell (founder of the Bell Shakespeare Company ) was asked by Opera Australia to direct a new version of Tosca in 2013, he decided to make the characters of the play and the choice between death over the loss of liberty much more powerful.

Carmen Giannattasio as Tosca and Marco Vratogna as Scarpia in Opera Australia’s 2021 production of Tosca at the Sydney Opera House.
Photo Credit: Prudence Upton

What better setting than Nazi-occupied Rome in  1943? It did shock many opera-goers to see the Nazi banners draped so extensively and the magnificent Easter Hymn sung in the reproduction of the still-standing Sant’Andrea della Valle church highlighting the co-operation between the Italian clergy and the Nazi occupiers. But at the same time, it added several layers of impact to the story. I’ve always thought this production was strong and original enough to be transported to the great opera houses of Europe and the USA.

In its third iteration in Sydney, this revival by Matthew Barclay does not diminish in any way my great love for the production.

Making her OA debut was the excellent Italian soprano Carmen Giannattasio. With all the notes powerfully produced and her extreme jealousy beautifully encapsulated this was a passionate Tosca indeed. The show-stopping “Vissi D’arte” brought the house down.

Reprising his role as the loyal painter Cavaradossi, was our favourite Mexican Diego Torre. When he sings you just know how sweet his notes will be.

Another singer reprising his role was Italian baritone Marco Vratogna as evil personified, Army commander Scarpia. His final bow was met with the usual mixture of applause for his performance and boos for the awful character he played.

In a strong supporting cast, David Parkin was outstanding as the desperate escaped prisoner Angelotti as was the totally reliable Luke Gabbady as the church Sacristan.

Young Aidan Carey, singing the role formerly called the Shepherd Boy, but now a young teen Jewish refugee, complete with a big yellow star embroidered on his jacket added a very meaningful touch of loss and pathos with his standout performance.

A great score needs a wonderful orchestra and despite the handicap of the string players all masked up, the Opera Australia orchestra played in top form. No doubt encouraged by the rising superstar conductor, the 33-year-old Italian Andrea Battistoni, whose energetic direction sparked the whole night.

At the end, it was quite clear that the much more than just an enthusiastic audience, absolutely loved this production, as I did!

World-class in every respect.

5 stars

 

TOSCA

Joan Sutherland Theatre

Sydney Opera House

Monday February 22

Season finishes March 13

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