Opera Australia TOSCA - photo by Prudence UptonJudging by the packed house on opening night, Opera Australia Artistic Director, Lyndon Terracini’s strategy of presenting revivals of the company’s most popular productions with interesting international singers cast in the leading roles for the initial performances, then replaced with the company’s own principals for the rest of the season, has again paid off.

Along with Elijah Moshinsky’s La Traviata, Gale Edwards La Boheme and Moffatt Oxenbould’s Madam Butterfly, John Bell’s acclaimed 2013 production of Tosca, with Michael Scott-Mitchell’s act 1, soaring white marble cathedral setting, and Teresa Negroponte’s period-correct costumes, has deservedly become an audience favourite.

The storyline in Bell’s staging is clear and unambiguous in its depiction of the creeping horror of the Nazi occupation of Rome in 1943, particularly at the end of act one when Nazi flags are spectacularly unfurled in the cathedral. For this 2017 revival, three exceptional International singers are cast in the key roles of Tosca, Cavaradossi and Scarpia, none of whom have been seen on stage in Australia previously.

Spanish soprano, Ainhoa Arteta brings a believably glamourous presence to her role as the flighty opera singer, Tosca, eliciting chuckles from the audience as she insists Cavaradossi change the colour of the eyes in his painting because she suspects he is having an affair with the model. The flexibility of her dark, sultry soprano, partly revealed in her first act duet with Cavaradossi, is  given full reign in the dramatic second act as she engages in a battle of wits with the unscrupulous Scarpia, in an unsuccessful attempt to save Cavaradossi’s life.

Handsome Romanian tenor, Teodor Ilincai, also revealed dramatic flair and a glorious tenor voice as the doomed Cavaradossi. His duets with Arteta in the first and third acts were beautifully sung and dramatically convincing.

But it is the staging of vocal and mental duel between Tosca and Scarpia in the second act which provides the highpoint of this production. In this scene Arteta proved a worthy adversary for the frightening Scarpia, superbly sung and portrayed with unnerving malevolence by Italian baritone, Lucio Gallo. And while agreeing with Puccini that his famous aria, Vissi d’arte tended to slow up this scene, Arteta’s impeccably phrased, heart rending performance provided a convincing argument as to why this aria has become such an indispensable audience favourite.

Surrounding the three guest artists, there were excellent performances from Richard Anderson, in fine voice, as the escapee, Angelotti, Luke Gabbedy, providing an amusingly idiosyncratic cameo as the Sacristan, and Graeme Macfarlane and Adrian Tamburini, both scaringly oozing malice as Spoletta and Sciarrone respectively. The Opera Australia Chorus, the Sydney Children’s Choir and the Opera Australia Orchestra under conductor, Christian Badea, all contributed brilliantly to the drama and spectacle of this magnificent production.

From the 17 – 31 March, Daria Masiero, Diego Torre, Shane Lowrencev will take over the roles of Tosca, Cavaradossi and Scarpia, while Sciarrone and the Sacristan will be played by Tom Hamilton and Samuel Dundas. Tahu Matheson will take over the conductor’s podium, providing Sydney audiences with the opportunity to experience more exciting interpretations of these pivotal roles.

Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point
Performance: Friday 17 February 2017 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 31 March 2017
Information and Bookings:

Image: Teodor Ilincai as Cavaradossi and Ainhoa Arteta as Tosca in Opera Australia’s production of Tosca – photo by Prudence Upton

Review: Bill Stephens OAM