Arts Centre Melbourne, State Theatre


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.

Enjoy dinner before the performance at Arts Centre Melbourne's Tram Bar

Allow us to make your dinner reservation: 6pm at Arts Centre Melbourne's Tram Bar.

For $55, enjoy a three-course Italian menu, including matched wine. Simply add dinner to your cart after selecting your tickets for Tosca.


Conductor Andrea Molino
Director John Bell
Set Designer Michael Scott-Mitchell
Costume Designer Teresa Negroponte
Lighting Designer Nick Schlieper
Fight Choreographer Nigel Poulton
Assistant Director Roger Press
Tosca Martina Serafin (until 29 November)
Jacqueline Mabardi
Cavaradossi Diego Torre
Scarpia Claudio Sgura
Angelotti Steven Gallop
Sacristan Luke Gabbedy
Spoletta Graeme Macfarlane
Sciarrone Adrian Tamburini
Gaoler Tom Hamilton

Orchestra Victoria

Opera Australia Chorus

Opera Australia's Children's Chorus

Running Time: Approximately 3 hours, including two intervals of 30 and 20 minutes.

The StoryHide

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.

Scarpia arrests Cavaradossi on suspicion of aiding Angelotti, and as he is tortured, Tosca is made to listen to his cries.

Scarpia gives her an impossible choice: give in to his lascivious demands to save her lover’s life, or save her honour and give Cavaradossi up for dead. In that terrible moment, Tosca makes a choice, and the consequences play out in a heart-rending Act III.

Not afraid of spoilers? Read the full synopsis.

Act I

Angelotti, who has just escaped from prison, finds a key left for him in a church by his sister, the Marchesa Attavanti, and hides in the Attavanti chapel. The sacristan enters, grumbling about having to clean the painter Cavaradossi's brushes. Cavaradossi returns to his work and, when Angelotti emerges from hiding, promises to help him but tells him to hide again when they hear Tosca approaching. Although she begins to suspect that he is having an affair with the Marchesa, Cavaradossi reassures her of his love before she leaves.

Angelotti tells Cavaradossi that his sister has left him some female clothing and that he intends to escape in disguise. Cavaradossi mentions a hiding-place down the well in his garden in case of emergency. They hear a shot, indicating that the escape has been discovered, and Cavaradossi rushes Angelotti to his safe house.

The sacristan announces a grand Te Deum to celebrate a report of a victory for the current regime. Excitement at this news is cut short by the arrival of Scarpia, on Angelotti's trail. A search of the church reveals a fan with the crest of the Attavanti and, when Tosca returns, looking for Cavaradossi, Scarpia uses it to inflame her jealousy, as a way of winning Tosca for himself.

Act II

Scarpia waits for Tosca, who is singing at an official reception to celebrate the victory. Spoletta informs him that Angelotti has still not been found but that Cavaradossi has been arrested. Under interrogation he denies any knowledge of Angelotti. Tosca arrives as Cavaradossi is led off to torture. At first she refuses to tell Scarpia anything, but finally she can bear Cavaradossi's suffering no longer and reveals Angelotti's hiding-place. When Cavaradossi is brought in and hears Scarpia ordering the arrest of Angelotti it is obvious that Tosca has betrayed him. At this moment the news of a serious defeat for the current regime arrives. Cavaradossi is triumphant and Scarpia orders his execution.

Tosca begs for the life of her lover and Scarpia names his price: she must have sex with him in exchange for Cavaradossi's freedom. Seeing no alternative, she agrees, and Scarpia orders Spoletta to perform a mock execution of Cavaradossi, after which he and Tosca will be able to escape. As he claims his reward, however, Tosca kills him.


Cavaradossi awaits execution. He remembers the happiness Tosca had brought him. Tosca then tells him what has happened and prepares him for the mock execution. She realises too late that she has been deceived by Scarpia: the execution was real. Tosca pays for Scarpia's murder with her own life.

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