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Concert reviews Sydney Opera House Australia NSW Tosca Opera Australia

OPERA AUSTRALIA’S TOSCA AT SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

4 1/2 stars

There is always excitement when Opera Australia launches a new production, particularly for an old favourite from the repertoire. It was a full house for the opening of Tosca at the Joan Sutherland Theatre in the Sydney Opera House. The audience was made up of a diverse range of all aged adults from casually dressed to the full regalia. They were in a good mood from the start applauding the better known arias which doesn’t always happen with every opera. It was great to keep their mood buoyant for as long as possible as the Concert Hall on the other side of the building was in the midst of the NSW Education Festival of Instrumental Music with around 1000 student musicians + family tag alongs so, you could not get a more full house. Sydney Opera House staff did an excellent job keeping the crowds flowing, the drinks flowing and the lavatories clean.

Director Edward Dick first created this version of Tosca in 2018 for Opera North in the UK starring Northern Irish soprano Giselle Allen who travels to Sydney to perform for us in this season. For much of the opera the directed action seems over-the-top and melodramatic, way beyond natural. In particular, there are so many actions for Tosca and Cavaradossi to do in Act I together, the overall effect is stiff, busy and unnecessary. They do not feel like lovers at all. It is only when we reach the climax to the story in Act 2 through to the end of the opera that the acting becomes believable, relatable and absolutely gripping. There is also an over-use of arms spread in a Jesus like fashion perhaps to represent the sacrifice of the characters.

The set designed by Tom Scutt is simple and powerful with the main variation between acts being the setup of a large cathedral styled dome viewed from different angles each act. It is wrapped in gold with the interior hand painted in a renaissance style featuring the Madonna. The eyes of the Madonna are a part of the story in Act I and are mounted into the dome by the closing Act which was satisfying to see. So much fuss is created at the beginning of the story with Tosca jealous that the eyes of the Madonna have been painted blue by her lover artist when her own eyes are brown. Such small talk soon evaporates as the fight for survival becomes a far greater priority.

There is a round, raised stage the performers can walk around and over, many rows of candles you would find in a Catholic Church attended by an alter boy who seems intent on lighting them over and over again even when the scene is intimate. The back drop is made of vertical racks of spotlights used to great effect. The Lighting Design by Lee Curran and realised in Sydney by Jason Morphett is excellent. Suited to a truly dark tale, the lighting gives us very little hope. Tosca’s character is a singer so the spotlighting doubles its use connecting her stage career with the sharp contrast of a torture chamber. In the Te Deum at the close of Act I, translucent flags are flown creating confusion about the loyalties of the locals.

Costumes by Fotini Dimou are scattered without any particular common theme. Tosca’s colours are muted and made bespoke to match the Allen’s red hair. For the chorus, there is a mix of stark colours with the period dress ranging from contemporary to 1960’s. At least the three main soloist costumes were neutral in era and didn’t distract from the storyline. Scarpia’s bedroom scene has him constantly undoing, doing up and changing clothing garments. Again this feels unnecessary and does not support the strength and unshakeable focus of what we know to be his character.

Opera Tosca Giselle Allen and Young Woo Kim show review Sydney June 2024
Giselle Allen as Tosca and Young Woo Kim as Cavaradossi in Opera Australia’s production of Tosca, Sydney Australia, June 2024

Makeup for Tosca also held contrast. The opening act featured very heavy makeup that made her look decades older than her lover yet, in the final act the lighter weight makeup made her look beautiful.

Our leading lady Giselle Allen knows the role well. Her voice is incredibly powerful with a deep vibrato and a strength that would blast the auditorium roof apart in any Wagnerian role. Her connection to tenor, Young Woo Kim in the role of Cavaradossi, felt initially distant but grew more affectionate as the story progressed. This may change as the artists become more familiar with one another.

The voice of Young Woo Kim has great power and volume. He has a clear, open vocal tone with a fine vibrato that didn’t feel like the greatest match for Allen, though highly impressive on its own. The audience loved both of these artists and roared approval at the close.

Baritone Gevorg Hakobyan as the evil Scarpia in Tosca for Opera Australia June 2024
Baritone Gevorg Hakobyan as the evil Scarpia in Tosca for Opera Australia June 2024

Scarpia was played by Armenian born Gevorg Hakobyan who didn’t hold quite the same volume but had excellent control and accuracy doubled with a suitably sexy, evil personality. Much credit is due to his henchmen Benjamin Rasheed and Luke Gabbedy whose joint malice was felt right to the back of the Gods.

Much as we enjoyed the performance of these three leading artists, it is disappointing to see there are no Australians in the leading roles for the first half of the Tosca season. Only one is added to the second cast. Keep an eye out for Warwick Fyfe as Scarpia and do write to Opera Australia if you feel they should be giving the well paid jobs to our own singers more often. It is nice to see overseas performers once and a while but not if our own highly competent singers are left packing shelves at Woolworths or having to go overseas to look for work.

Lastly but certainly not least, conductor Johannes Fritzsch did a terrific job holding the show together. His tempi, interpretation and leadership were outstanding. The orchestra were superb and it is wonderful to be able to hear them more clearly with the new acoustics since the renovation of the theatre.

Overall, the opera Tosca is definitely worth seeing. The direction contains a lot more explicit violence than most versions of this opera which had the audience flinching. If you are squeamish, you might like to skip this one. The music is wonderful, the singers are all superb and it is certainly refreshing to see a new concept and set in which to view this much loved tale.

Highly recommended.

 

Conductor: Johannes Fritzsch

Cast

Tosca – Giselle Allen
Cavaradossi – Young Woo Kim
Scarpia – Gevorg Hakobyan
Spoletta – Benjamin Rasheed
Sciarrone – Luke Gabbedy
Angelotti – David Parkin
Sacristan – Andrew Moran

Production staff

Director – Edward Dick
Set Design – Tom Scutt
Costume Design – Fotini Dimou
Lighting Design – Lee Curran
Lighting Realised by – Jason Morphett
Choreographer – Maxine Braham
Assistant Director – Warwick Doddrell
Fight Coordinator – Blake Wells
Intimacy Coordinator – Chloe Dallimore

Related Links

Book your tickets for Tosca: https://opera.org.au/productions/tosca-sydney/

What else is on at the Opera House? https://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/whats-on?date=All&genre%5B1436%5D=1436

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