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Interview: John Bell on rethinking Puccini’s Tosca

John Bell has a daunting task: reinventing a much-loved Puccini classic after a disastrous earlier production turned off Opera Australia subscribers. He talks to Curtain Call about the challenge.

John Bell

The last production of Puccini’s celebrated Tosca from Opera Australia,¬†Christopher Alden’s brutally monochrome 2010 version, was banished from the repertoire soon after amid howls of complaints from patrons. Just three years later the company has tasked one of the country’s most respected theatremakers, Shakespeare specialist John Bell, to restore the masterpiece.

Bell isn’t daunted by the challenge, or scared into returning to the show’s roots. His new production — premiering at the Sydney Opera House on July 6 — is transposed to Mussolini’s Italy in the 1940s, with lavish new set designs by Michael Scott-Mitchell and costumes by Teresa Negroponte. He sat down with Curtain Call to discuss the challenges …


The details: Tosca plays the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House until August 28. Tickets on the OA website.

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  • 1
    Pusscat
    Posted July 5, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Consider this, LB Syke, or anyone else, if you care to:

    There might well be a citizen/taxpayer who longs to see Tosca in the Verdi 200th year, and especially with input from one John Bell.

    Only because she managed to to grab a little spelling and arithmetic, along with a comprehensive grounding in Western art music, courtesy of the publicly-funded High School attached to the Sydney Conservatorium, more recently re-incarnated as the Music Department of Blackett’s Uni Of Sydney.

    And sure, her classmates there in the 1970′s should have taught her clearly enough that any opportunity of involvement for people from the less-leafy parts of her country with The Arts is rare enough to be anomalous.

    But, deluded in middle age by the idea that her taxes had been funding the national opera company for decades, she might well visit the OA website in hopes of perhaps securing a ticket. And even, perhaps, one for a friend as well.

    Would she learn there that the ticket prices will exclude her and the friend from Bell’s 1940′s Verdi?

    Would she be disconsolate about that exclusion?

    How would she somehow feel OK again about Australian culture, generally and in particular, after that optimistic foolishness of hers?

    How, Mr Syke? Anyone?

  • 2
    Lloyd Bradford Syke
    Posted July 5, 2013 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    yes, pusscat, alas, it’s a conundrum. opera costs so much to stage, the ticket ask is necessarily exorbitant. necessarily? yes, I’m afraid so. opera companies around the world are doing it tough. no, really! as I understand it, even la scala. not even have I considered this, but commented and complained in the past, especially about the democratisation opera on the harbour is intended to effect, but at a still exclusive ask. but, just as the daly-wilson big band used to be sponsored, shamelessly, by benson & hedges, allowing it to survive and prosper, until we have the coca-cola australia opera, or something, we’ll have to fork out, or go opera-hungry, I fear.

  • 3
    pemfuller
    Posted July 5, 2013 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    Any chance that the Australian Opera could give us some opera that hasn’t been updated, modernised, transposed … just set where and when the librettist and composer intended?

  • 4
    Lloyd Bradford Syke
    Posted July 8, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    I think you’ll find OA often does that, pemfuller. As often as not, probably. Maybe get out more. In any case, that’s really a question for OA, not CC.

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