Opera Australia: Tosca – Theatre Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Margaret Court Arena is a multipurpose venue known more for tennis and concerts, but it is the first time that the venue has been turned into a home for opera. Opera Australia has achieved something no-one else has, transforming the humble arena into the ideal stage for Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca.

Directed by Edward Dick and conducted by Garry Walker, Puccini’s beloved opera savours its themes of love, jealousy and betrayal to showcase a sensational and dramatic bittersweet romance that will hold you on the edge of your seat.

Despite having been around since the 1900s, Puccini’s music is beautiful and its story told through the direction of Edward Dick is as exciting as ever. For the night I attended, I had the wonderful opportunity to see Robert Hayward as Scarpia, Diego Torres as Cavaradossi, and Karah Son as the titular role of Tosca.

Unfolding in three acts, the opera’s story entails that of a love triangle between Cavaradossi, a hardworking painter who is on the run from law, Scarpia who is a man of great power and unquenched desire, and Tosca, a talented stage diva that is the object of both their affections. Although the circumstances on how these three became stuck in their toxic love triangle is a tad bit silly, the real excitement is when the cast of Opera Australia’s Melbourne season of Tosca dive into Puccini’s gorgeous arias.

Admittedly, I consider myself quite fresh to the art of opera. I first fell in love with opera in 2018 when I saw Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata and I haven’t looked back since. Although I am aware of how prolific Giacomo Puccini has been, composing so many famous and praised operas. I must confess, I’ve had only had the pleasure of seeing Turandot and until very recently, this wonderful production of Tosca.

Honestly, I could write for days on how beautiful Tosca is, but having existed now for 124 years, I wouldn’t exactly be sharing anything new about the legendary composer’s work. Instead, what I can share is how special and refreshing this new production is. Granted, while it is still my first experience of Tosca, I thoroughly loved the directional choice to modernise its tale.

Scarpia is meant to be the chief of police but in this modern adaptation, he is still a man of the law in his own twisted way but cleverly visually appears more like a mobster boss or gangster. There is a use of a laptop and guns, and while this modern setting is wonderful to make the opera appear more current and relevant to new and younger audiences, this does not take away from the power of Puccini’s music and Tosca’s story.

The set designed by Tom Scutt is stunning and a marvel in itself. The curved piece, floating to make a ceiling of a church, the second act’s intimate bedroom and lounge, and the final setting of a circular window balcony to the outside world, Scutt has created a minimal set that is enough to bring viewers into the story, and is just the right touch to still allow patrons their imagination. I was so thoroughly impressed by the ceiling from the first set, I found myself wishing that after Opera Australia’s entire Tosca run, that somebody purchase it so that it may spend the rest of its light in an art gallery where many can still view it long after the season is over.

The main cast are just as impressive as Tosca’s sets. Robert Hayward is as dashing as he is dangerous as the love hungry Scarpia. Hayward’s vocals are just as powerful as his character is. Cavaradossi is executed flawlessly by Diego Torres and I found myself in awe during the aria ‘E lucevan le stelle’. Not only is the aria phenomenal to listen to, but superb Lighting Designer Lee Curran has created magic to accompany this gorgeous piece of composition by making stars and constellations appear out of nowhere and disappear as quickly as they came. If I could capture a moment and keep it always and replay it a million times over in my mind as vividly and as much as I wanted, it would be *that* moment. I actually gasped!

Last but not least, there’s Tosca played by the fantastic Karah Son. Tosca is a very jealous woman, but she’s funny and likable thanks to Son’s talents. Son can play giddy and love chuffed, to anxious and serious within seconds. Her voice is also so stunning that during ‘Vissi d’arte’, I found myself closing my eyes to blissfully focus on her vocals.

Tosca is the perfect first time opera for newcomers and it’s just as great for avid opera lovers. Never have I ever left an opera an remembered it so vividly. Its story is exciting, dramatic, had my hanging on the edge of my seat, and gaping in both shock and awe on multiple occasions throughout the performance. I’ve never seen anything as exciting and as wonderful on the stage as much as I have with Puccini’s Tosca.

Opera Australia have done a brilliant job of bringing this modern retelling production to the stage and I’m grateful that they brought it down to Melbourne. I also hope this is not the last time we see an opera at Margaret Court Arena. I’ve witnessed and have heard first hand of many who have ventured down to the arena to see their very first opera because of its location.

There is a reason why Opera Australia’s 2024 production of Tosca with its modern take, works. Puccini’s music is timeless but married together with a modern retelling and what you have is a thrilling and theatrical love story that can enchant anyone. Conjuring the magic that Puccini debuted 124 years ago, this new production of Tosca bleeds a unified love for art, romance and life, and it is as refreshing as it is glorious.

Opera Australia’s 2024 production of Tosca is currently playing in Melbourne at at Margaret Court Arena until the 30th of May. It will then head to the Sydney Opera House from the 25th of June until the 16th of August.
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Photography by Jeff Busby.

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