Back in 2011, Teddy Tahu Rhodes made his WA Opera debut as Baron Scarpia in Christopher Alden’s gritty 2002 production of Tosca. Set in our own time, Alden’s uncompromising take on Puccini’s classic gave verismo a whole new meaning. Needless to say, Tahu Rhodes rose to the occasion, filling the stage with as much baleful presence as he filled the audience’s hearts with disgust – in a good way.
This time round Tahu Rhodes reprises the role for WA Opera in a very different context indeed, with director Stuart Mander’s stylish, brooding 2015 New Zealand Opera production situating the action in the Rome of the 1950s. Here, Jan Ubels’ set designs, Elizabeth Whiting’s costumes and Jason Morphett’s lighting give us a Roman Holiday that is anything but.
Teddy Tahu Rhodes and Antoinette Halloran in West Australian Opera’s Tosca
But just to recap: originally set in Rome in 1800 and premiered in that city in January 1900, Tosca documents the downfall and ultimate destruction of its eponymous heroine, her lover the painter Mario Cavaradossi and the villain of the piece, police chief Baron Scarpia: victims of politics, lust and their own jealousy.
Escaped political prisoner Angelotti (Wade Kernot) seeks refuge in the chapel where Cavaradossi (Paul O’Neill) is working, helped by a sacristan (Andrew Foote). Cavaradossi agrees to help the fugitive. But his plans are severely compromised by the painter’s jealous lover Floria Tosca (Antoinette Halloran), who is convinced Cavaradossi is concealing another woman.
When Cavaradossi is later captured by Baron Scarpia (Teddy Tahu Rhodes) and tortured, Tosca is compelled to reveal Angelotti’s hiding place and, later, to give into Scarpia’s lustful demands in exchange for her lover’s life.
Teddy Tahu Rhodes in West Australian Opera’s Tosca
This opening-night performance found Tahu Rhodes going all Mafioso on friends and enemies alike, his Scarpia cutting an elegant figure as much as he probably wanted to cut a few throats. Along with a very much on-form WA Opera Chorus and WA Symphony Orchestra, he delivered a Te Deum as powerful as one could ever hope to hear, bringing Act One to a ringing close.
But it was perhaps left to Perth boy O’Neill, back home after a decade abroad, and Halloran to carry the full dramatic force of score and story forward as the star-crossed lovers. Listening especially to O’Neill’s Recondita armonia and E lucevan le stelle, or Halloran’s Vissi d’arte, one had the sense of intelligent musicianship, refined technique and a sophisticated theatrical instinct placed utterly at the service of the music.
This, combined with WAO artistic director Brad Cohen’s cogent, compelling direction and a frankly often volcanic sound from the pit made for a very memorable night at the opera indeed. If you’re in Perth next week, don’t make the mistake of missing this superb production.
West Australian Opera’s Tosca is at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Perth until April 8