Tosca (Sydney Opera House) – Daily Review
Tosca review (Sydney Opera House) on Daily Review - 14.01.2015
When director John Bell’s production of Puccini’s Tosca premiered in Sydney in 2013, it was a clear dramatic masterpiece; taut, full of dramatic tension and fully-realised characters. The performances, by Alexia Voulgaridou, Yonghoon Lee and John Wegner, set the bar staggeringly high — so high, in fact, that I remember worrying that I’d been spoiled and that all future outings of Bell’s production would pale in comparison.
Not likely. Not with the vocal and dramatic dexterity South African soprano Amanda Echalaz brings to the title role. The breadth and creamy, dark warmth of her tone is apparent from the first phrases she sings off stage. When she bursts forth, she reveals a genuinely stunning spinto soprano with even power throughout her entire range. So assured is her performance — comfortably tackling every vocal challenge — you could almost imagine the role was written especially with Echalaz in mind. But it’s her dramatic performance that impresses most.
Her skills are perhaps best exemplified in her performance of the iconic aria Vissi d’arte. Puccini famously came to regret putting the aria smack-bang in the middle of the second act, concerned that the soprano showpiece held up the seething tension at play. Not in Echalaz’s hands; it becomes a monologue with a complete narrative arc. She’s lit a fire under this revival, and the standard of everything else on stage seems to have lifted to match her.
Bell’s production ingeniously moves the action from Rome in 1800 forward to Nazi-controlled Rome in the early 1940s — it’s a very comfortable update, which just serves to exemplify how universal and timeless Tosca’s story really is. The abuse of power (including sexual power) and its uncomfortable relationship with religion is intensely felt in the final moments of the first act in this production, when Nazis march through a church, commanding all around them. Then again as Scarpia (Claudio Sgura) attempts to coerce Tosca into performing sexual acts to save her lover. As Bell points out in his directors notes, these are things still happening all around the world today, and he, along with assistant director Roger Press, imbues these scenes with the stark reality, terror and ugliness of the situation..