Opera Australia’s production of Tosca at Margaret Court Arena see stellar performances

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OPERA
Tosca ★ ★ ★ ★
Margaret Court Arena, until 30 May

You can't blame an opera company for trying. With the State Theater closed for renovations, CBD theaters occupied by musicals and an opera fraternity unhappy with its offering – Opera Australia had to try something different. Coupled with a recently announced $4.9 million operating loss, new artistic director Jo Davies will always have to find innovative ways to appease Melbourne's operatic appetite. Opera at Margaret Court Arena, however, leaves a sour taste in the mouth and a sore back.

Andrew Moran as Sacristan, the Opera Australia Chorus and Opera Australian Children's Chorus in Tosca at the Margaret Court Arena.Credit: Jeff Busby

Luckily, the singing is stellar. A new, mostly excellent production of Puccini Tosca is the right choice when trying to rekindle a regular audience while diversifying the demographic. Set in Rome in the year 1800, Floria Tosca is an opera singer who tries to save her beloved Cavaradossi, a painter, from a fate forced upon him by the corrupt police chief Scarpia. It's a fast plot; love, jealousy, betrayal and murder wrapped in some of opera's most sublime melodies.

This staging by Opera North (Leeds, UK) makes great use of the church's huge circular dome. The dome and the heavy use of lighting made the ending of Act III, which is often presented as naive, incredibly successful. It was a pity, though probably a necessity induced by the venue, that conductor Garry Walker and Orchestra Victoria did not see each other. Except for minor amplification imbalances, the music was flawless.

As Tosca, Karah Son displays a dazzling depth of vocal color, totally at home in this role. His reference work, Vissi D'arte it's poignant and powerful, with plush richness and tension-free strength. Englishman Robert Hayward is impressive as Scarpia, played here as something of a Harvey Weinstein-come-Bond-villain. It has the necessary combination of baritone heft and nauseating slickness to adequately give us all the evil.

Diego Torre, playing the role of Cavaradossi, and Karah Son, playing the role of Tosca.

Diego Torre, playing the role of Cavaradossi, and Karah Son, playing the role of Tosca.Credit: Getty

The night, however, belonged to tenor Diego Torre. Cavaradossi has been part of his repertoire for a few years now, but that's all, this version is the only one. You won't hear this role sung so well anywhere in the world right now. Torre rises with surprising ease, giving rise to goosebump-inducing high notes, the kind that made you forget the plastic seats and soulful feel of a tennis stadium.

One can only hope that the alternate cast, Nadine Benjamin, Warwick Fyfe and Young Woo Kim give such well-rounded performances. Some of opera's innate magic is lost in this setting, but if this is the peak of Opera Australia this season, the change we've been starved for has been satisfactorily served.

Reviewed by Bridget Davies



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