At last they are alone. The man hunt, the interrogation, the prayers, all forgotten as he leers at his conquest. Just sign the note of safe passage and she’s his! Where’s that pen? His upper lip sweats as he readies himself for Tosca’s kiss. He doesn’t see the knife glinting behind her back.
“Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore,” Tosca bemoans her fate with devastating beauty and poise. “I lived for art; I lived for love.”
Vissi d’arte could equally be the catchphrase of John Bell, the Australian doyen of Shakespeare who, for more than fifty years, has lived wholeheartedly for his art. Like the knife concealed against Tosca’s silk gown, Puccini’s verismo drama has a sharp edge, employed to startling effect in lushly orchestrated tunes. It is that theatrical instinct that has lured the director into the world of opera.
Bell has transplanted Tosca’s story to 1943, when Mussolini’s successors abandoned Rome to the invading German armies. Michael Scott-Mitchell’s sets recreate the radiant, baroque interior of Sant’Andrea della Valle church and, in cruel contrast, the grim, fascist architecture of Scarpia’s headquarters.
Reimagining the Puccini classic is not a task John Bell takes lightly. “I’m not an auteur type of director. I see my job as an interpreter, rather than a creator. I want to serve the opera.
"World War II is within the memory of many of our audience: they either lived through it or their families did,” Bell explains. “They’ve seen the documentary footage, the movies and the books. I want the experience of our own lifetimes to bring the story into focus.”
As the opera reaches its devastating end, Bell’s hope is that audiences won’t mourn for a tragedy of fiction. Rather, he hopes to capture the truth in the tale: a reality they recognise, that they see on the news: the everyday banality of evil.
Conducting a remarkable international cast is rising young talent Andrea Battistoni.
Amanda Echalaz and Riccardo Massi both come to us from performing Tosca in London, Salzburg and Berlin, and Claudio Sgura sings Scarpia after delighting audiences with a malevolent performance in Otello.
Interview with Tosca Director John Bell
Listen to 'Vissi d'arte' from Tosca
Watch the Tosca trailer
Tosca: A Listening Guide
Listen to 'E lucevan le stelle' from Tosca
Tosca at Sydney Opera House in 2013
|Conductor||Andrea Battistoni (until 6 Feb)
Nicholas Milton (7 Feb – 6 Mar)
|Rehearsal Director||Roger Press|
|Set Designer||Michael Scott-Mitchell|
|Costume Designer||Teresa Negroponte|
|Lighting Designer||Nick Schlieper|
|Tosca||Amanda Echalaz (until 21 Feb)
|Cavaradossi||Riccardo Massi (unil 6 Feb)
|Scarpia||Claudio Sgura (until 6 Feb)
Opera Australia's Children's Chorus
Running time: approximately 2 hours & 40 minutes, including two 20-minute intervals.
Performed in Italian with English surtitles.