Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A splendid cast sing up the spine tingling drama marvellously in Opera Australia's Tosca in Melbourne: Herald Sun Review

Published online at Melbourne's Herald Sun 25th April and in print 26th April 2018

In director John Bell’s Tosca for Opera Australia, Puccini’s original 1800 Napoleonic setting in Rome is catapulted into the time of the city’s 1943-44 Nazi occupation — and with it comes a spine tingling dramatic overlay that rivetingly reinforces its unjust tragedies under brutal forces.

Diego Torre as Cavaradossi and Latonia Moore as Tosca
In this persuasive revival by Hugh Halliday, if the arrival of Nazi uniformed soldiers in Act I’s magnificent church of Sant’Andrea waving swastika emblazoned blood red flags isn’t enough to chill — Michael Scott-Mitchell’s sets create an ongoing evocative architectural backdrop — Puccini’s music conveys the mood startlingly. From beginning, Andrea Battistoni’s powerfully driven and intense conducting served impressively with an expert and secure Orchestra Victoria in the pit.

In a work containing some of Puccini’s most famous arias the microseconds matter in conveying dramatic realism or the ‘verismo’ that characterises his style. Its most compelling interpretation comes in one of all opera’s most unnerving scenes, that of Act 2’s blend of desperation, lust, torture and murder centring on three stellar leads.

Plush soprano Latonia Moore, as the jealous diva-ish Tosca, scorching tenor Diego Torre, as her accommodating lover, the painter Cavaradossi, and hellfire baritone Marco Vratogna, as the detestable Nazi commander Scarpia, captured the persistent unnerving tension hauntingly.

Latonia Moore as Tosca and Marco Vratogna as Scarpia
Moore’s animated fluctuations in Act 1 periodically clashed with her unswerving thrilling vocal splendour — a small quibble — but, as the titular tragedienne reflecting on her fate in “Vissi d’arte” (”I lived for art”), her piety struck by God’s seeming abandonment, Moore brought sobs of heartbreaking distress that superbly illuminated her dramatic prowess.

A fine actor, smooth in delivery and comfortable in monumentalising sustained finishing notes, Torre, oft-seen principal for Opera Australia, was an exceptional match as Cavaradossi.

The Opera Australia Chorus raised a glorious “Te Deum” against a ferocious-voiced Vratogna, who, as one of the most fearful Scarpias you’re likely to see, was outstanding as he thrust his command in viscous bursts before succumbing to Tosca’s calculating knife attack.

Finally, Tosca’s end in accepting bullets rather than taking a suicidal plunge from Castel Sant’Angelo seems a less convincing way to end but Bell’s overall concept is a terrifically breathtaking.

Opera Australia
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne
Until 10th May, 2018


Production Photos: Jeff Busby