an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

Swastikas and Auschwitz…. now showing at Opera Australia

Tosca opens in Sydney this week.

Its director, John Bell, explains his relocation of the opera to Rome, 1943:

”It’s a pretty severe sort of fascist office block,” he says. ”It’s actually based on the Milan Railway Station and it’s all in green and grey marble with great swastikas on the wall so it’s a bit confronting.”

The prison ”has a whiff of Auschwitz about it”. ”There were over a thousand Jews who were deported from Rome to Auschwitz and we wanted to reference that in the third act so it’s not a glamorous setting at all.”

”It struck me that what happened in Rome in 1943 is very, very similar to the story of Tosca,” Bell says.

”We may find some adverse reactions,” Bell says. ”We might find some people unsettled by that but I think mostly people will approve because it does show the Nazis, the fascists in a bad light.” (So that’s all right, then.)



Nothing new under the sun. The same soggy, amoral concept was presented at Lausanne, Switzerland (above), earlier this year. But we guess they never heard about it at Opera Australia. Or about the fury in Düsseldorf at an excess of Nazi imagery.

In fact, we guess they haven’t heard about very much at all at Lydon Terracini’s Opera Australia.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Basia Jaworski says:

    O NO!!
    Not AGAIN, please!
    Tosca at Auschwitz is soooooo eighties…. :-(
    So one already more then 30 years ago.
    Out of inspiration?

    • David Hardie says:


      At least if they want to do something contemporary and original, why not set it in Washington and Guantanamo Bay?

  2. To me, what would be interesting is for a composer and librettist to create an opera based on one of Bruno Scchulz’s stories, and then as an ending show how he was shot in his hometown of Drohobycz. It could open a whole new world. Are you ready for your close up Mr. Glass?

  3. Basia Jaworski says:

    So = saw.
    @Helene – AGREE!

  4. How about a production based on the relationship between the characters and not the settings? Who has the right to say ‘Puccini is outdated and needs to be improved’? The opera is based on three long conversations, maybe that’s the problem, we really don’t know how to talk to each other anymore…

  5. Jonathan Miller already produced a pretty good and well thought out 1943/44 Rome setting of Tosca (starring, anyone correct me if I am wrong, Josephine Barstow during the first run) at the ENO back in the 1980s. What is so new?

  6. Bardin Levavy says:

    I think the question is not whether it’s new but whether it works. Yes, the relationship between the Nazis and the time at which Tosca is set is pretty obvious once you think about it – but that obviousness does not mean that it is necessarily trite and it certainly does not mean that it is incorrect. I also notice through the comments that directors keep coming back to it, so those producing TOSCA must think that the parallel has some validity.

    Having seen no productions other than the Met and the City Opera (long ago), I am unqualified to comment on the extent to which these productions “work” but it seems to me that the fact of the production, rather than its internal merits, is irrelevant.

  7. Michael says:

    Opera Australia locates Tosca in Mussolini’s Rome and gets criticised (even before the first night) because the idea was used by ENO decades ago and Lausanne this year, yet no-one criticises the thousands of repeats of what opera houses think Puccini wanted in 1900 (and I have seen more than a score of ghastly examples over the years).

    I was born in Sydney and find the repeated personal attacks on Lydon (sic) Terracini (with whom I have no connection, direct or indirect, cultural or otherwise) increasingly tedious and the general jibes about Australia and Opera Australia living in an isolated cultural backwater quite offensive.

    Indeed “the fury in Düsseldorf at an excess of Nazi imagery” was reported in Australia, inter alia, by the ABC in an item on 10th May to which it appears there were contributions from a learned “cultural commentator” called Norman Lebrecht. I can’t imagine there was a single opera house in the world which was not fully aware of the controversy within 24 hours. It was even mentioned in the interview with John Bell.

    I’ve got used to (normally) friendly anti-Australian jibes at Ashes time, but (note for readers not attuned to cricket: the Ashes is the biennial cricket competition between England and Australia), but what’s the point of this continued sniping at the Australian cultural environment?

    • ILoveOpera says:

      The respected director John Bell (Bell Shakespeare company) is directing this Tosca so it has all hopes of being a good one. I was a long standing Opera Australia subscriber but I wont be going because I am afraid it will be a shortened version or that the orchestra will be in a side room with music piped into the hall (I kid you not!) or the singers will not be opera-trained. Thank heavens the wonderful antipodean symphony orchestras are filling the gap left by OA. Last year the Sydney Symphony did a fantastic concert version of the Queen of Spades and the New Zealand Symphony’s Die Walkurie was second to none. The stellar cast included Simon O’Neill (Siegmund) and Christine Georke (Brunnhilde) neither of whom fit Lydon Terecini’s ‘I-wont-employ-fat-singers’ body-shape standard but both of whom have voices to die for. The normally reticent Wellington audience gave the cast and orchestra a standing ovation and the papers next day were full of stories about enthusiastic people for whom this had been their first Wagner experience.

      Yes, anti-anything jibing is unpleasant but in this case I am pleased someone is finally calling it as it is. I can’t wait for OA to turn the corner and welcome back voice lovers.

  8. Marguerite Foxon says:

    What is it with you and the Aussies Norm? It seems you cant mention Australia without a side swipe in the same sentence. I find it a bit tiresome.

  9. Mati Braun says:

    Have one of the great contemporary composers write an opera titled Hitler.

    • Syberborg did a movie called Our Hitler which was very popular in Germany. No one has come close to the real thing, just poor facsimilies. Point made in various shapes and forms, none of it comes at all close to the real thng. It’s all make believe and phony. It really should be forbidden, because it insults those who lived it.

  10. It seems that OA singers have the clout to help dispose of conductors (Mills/Ring), but are helpless when it comes to the dominating force of the director and his “concept” (this one being so tired that it doesn’t even warrant a comment).
    With Christopher Alden’s Tosca production in my not so distant memory (with it’s nonsensical Lotto dominated Te Deum taking the cake for possibly the worst ever idea on the operatic stage), one wonders why Sydney already needs a new one, considering the plethora of fine operas that have never been performed in this country (or ever will be).

  11. Hi RW,
    Still flogging the Richard Mills thing I see ……. I admire the fact in a strange way that you never miss an opportunity, even on a thread about Tosca! Out of interest how many UK singers have disposed of a Director? I know at least the original Director of Richard Mills’ Batavia was disposed of due to some of the bizarre requests placed on the cast …. so that’s at least one OA precedent for such an event taking place over 10 years ago …. John Bell is actually a fairly well respected Director. Personally I don’t care for the concept of the production, but I would at least give him the chance to make it work before condemning it before rehearsals even start.

    • Thanks RKBB. I didn’t know that the OA also disposed of directors. How comforting.
      Just goes to show how interested I was in that opera …
      “First I need to be honest and say that I found Peter Goldsworthy and Richard Mills’s Batavia the vilest thing I have experienced in the theatre…” wrote our SMH.

an ArtsJournal blog