Tosca - courtesy of Opera AustraliaJohn Bell’s critically acclaimed 20th century retelling of Puccini’s Tosca returns tonight to the Sydney Opera House stage with a stellar cast featuring some of the best performers in the world.

In a beautiful church, the painter Cavaradossi is working. When an escaped prisoner bursts in, Cavaradossi risks his own life to help Angelotti hide from the Fascist police. But Cavaradossi’s lover, Tosca, overhears him talking and becomes jealous. In spite of Cavaradossi’s ardent assurances of love, it is easy for the chief of police, Scarpia to fan the flames of her jealousy. He wants Tosca for himself.

Scarpia arrests Cavaradossi on suspicion of aiding Angelotti, and as he is tortured, Tosca is made to listen to his cries. She has a fateful choice before her: give into the hateful Scarpia’s lascivious demands and save her lover’s life, or save her honour and kill Cavaradossi. In that terrible moment, Tosca makes a choice, and the consequences play out in a heart-rending Act III.

This is a production that calls for three exceptional principal singers, and this year two outstanding casts are taking on the challenging roles of Tosca, Cavaradossi and Scarpia. Popular Spanish soprano Ainhoa Arteta will make her debut with Opera Australia, sharing the title role with Italian Daria Masiero.

Romanian tenor Teodor Ilincai, also making his Opera Australia debut and Diego Torre will take on the role of Cavaradossi; and one of the best baritones in the world, Italian Lucio Gallo will play Scarpia along with local favourite Shane Lowrencev.

“I’m very excited for Arteta and Ilincai to be performing with Opera Australia. Arteta is one of the greatest sopranos around and Ilincai is a fantastic tenor who will bring tremendous power to the role,” said Opera Australia Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini. “Lucio Gallo is really interesting. He’s a very famous baritone and has sung all the great baritone roles in all the major opera houses in the world.  To see him perform in the role of Scarpia will be captivating.”

To conduct, Opera Australia welcomes back, the Romanian-American maestro Christian Badea. In this production, Bell keeps the opera’s original setting in Rome, but moves the date from 1800 to 1943. Instead of Napoleon’s army occupying the city, it is the Nazis. The transition brings the story forward into an era that resonates with today’s audiences.

“Tosca is not a melodrama,” says Bell. “It is a heart-wrenching story of oppression, resistance and a woman blackmailed to save the life of a loved one. The era I have chosen is a time close enough for its history and images to stir our memory and our emotions. Tosca is a dark story, but one alleviated by Puccini’s glorious music, which celebrates the heroism of those who choose death over loss of liberty.”

The curtain rises on a breathtaking recreation of the Sant’Andrea della Valle by award-winning set designer Michael Scott-Mitchell, whose designs propel the story, from the sheer magnificence of the church, to the austerity of Scarpia’s quarters, and finally to the stark oppression of the prison. Bell’s vision and Scott-Mitchell’s designs are complemented by the work of costume designer Teresa Negroponte, including a stunning evening gown for Tosca.

“Bell’s is an unforgettable production: moving and confronting yet never so gruelling as to overwhelm Puccini’s romantic masterpiece.” – The Herald Sun

Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point
Season: 17 February – 31 March 2017
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Image: Tosca – courtesy of Opera Australia