ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

17/09/2015 - 27/09/2015

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

10/10/2015 - 17/10/2015

TVNZ On Demand, New Zealand wide

31/05/2020 - 30/08/2020

COVID-19 Level 2 Festival

Production Details

Puccini’s Tosca is the opera that conquered the world. This passionate story of lust, revenge and sacrifice is one of the most successful and beloved operas of all time. NZ Opera’s new production, opening at the Aotea Centre in September, brings home New Zealand’s most celebrated living tenor for his first major opera role here in over a decade. Simon O’Neill, who has studied the role of Cavaradossi with Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti, says it is some of the greatest music ever written for a tenor. “I am just delighted to come back home and sing when, I hope, my voice is on the way to its peak. Puccini is such a great joy to sing – it’s like Italian olive oil on the vocal cords.”

NZ Opera invites you to hear this great New Zealand voice, Simon O’Neill as Mario Cavaradossi in their September/October season of Tosca.

September 17—27 2015
ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre
Thursday 17, 7:30pm
Saturday 19, 7:30pm
Wednesday 23, 7:30pm
Friday 25, 7:30pm
Sunday 27, 2:30pm

October 10—17 2015
St James Theatre
Saturday 10, 7:30pm
Tuesday 13, 6:00pm
Thursday 15, 7:30pm
Saturday 17, 7:30pm 


New Zealand Opera’s acclaimed 2015 production of Puccini’s Tosca is set to make its free-to-air television debut this Queen’s Birthday weekend. Filmed for cinema release at The Aotea Centre, Auckland, the production will air on TVNZ 1 on Sunday 31 May at 10am. Following the screening, the film will be added to TVNZ OnDemand for a three month period.  

See it here.

floria tosca Orla Boylan
mario cavaradossi Simon O’Neill
baron scarpia Phillip Rhodes
cesare angelotti James Clayton
a sacristan Barry Mora
spoletta James Benjamin Rodgers
sciarrone Wade Kernot
a jailer Jarvis Dams (a), Matt Landreth (w)
a shepherd boy Cameron Brownsey (a), Xavier Francis (a), Archie Taylor (w)

creative team
conductor Tobias Ringborg
director Stuart Maunder
assistant director Tamsyn Matchett
set designer Jan Ubels
costume designer Elizabeth Whiting
lighting designer Jason Morphett
Featuring the Freemasons NZ OPERA Chorus.

production team
technical manager Steve Crowcroft
production assistant Hemi Wipiti
company manager Jonathan Hodge
stage manager Kate Middleton-Olliver
deputy stage manager Miriam Emerson
assistant stage manager Youra Hwang
assistant stage manager chorus (a) Samantha Vance
assistant stage manager chorus (w) Pam Hindmarsh
production workshop manager Jan Ubels
set construction Mike Huaki, Anton Skerlj’Rovers
carpenter Frank Checketts
head of lighting Jason Morphett
lighting assistant Alex Fisher
head mechanist Allan Rockell
scenic artist Christine Urquhart
head of wigs & makeup Coleta Carbonell
wigs & makeup assistant Karina Sanasaryan
wardrobe team Lisa Holmes, Nikki Hann, Gayle Jackson, Sophie Ham, Lee Williams, Penny Pratt
patternmaker Fiona Nicols
chorus director (a) John Rosser
chorus director (w) & associate conductor Michael Vinten
principal, understudy & chorus répétiteur (w) Bruce Greenfield
chorus répétiteur (a) David Kelly
surtitles operation (a) Chris Allen and David Kelly
surtitles operation (w) Christine Pearce and Jim Pearce

special thanks
Antoni Rajwer – Consulting Engineer, Gunnersons, Paint Plus, Auckland Live Technical Staff and Crew, Positively Wellington Venues Technical Staff and Crew, The Royal New Zealand Ballet.

Please Note: Information is correct at the time of printing. The management reserves the right to make alterations to the cast as required due to unavoidable circumstances

Theatre , Opera ,

Exciting, attractive and compelling

Review by Tim Stevenson 06th Jun 2020

If you’re craving live, homegrown entertainment after months of enforced abstinence, here’s a more than palatable substitute. NZ Opera’s 2015 production of Puccini’s Tosca is now available on TVNZ OnDemand. This is a winning combination – masterpiece opera, a terrific performance by a largely Kiwi cast and team, skilfully filmed by Shotz Ltd – and it’s free-to-air.  

Millions of words have been written about Tosca since it was first staged in 1900, but let’s quickly set the scene anyway. We’re in Rome, where painter Cavaradossi (performed by Simon O’Neill) impulsively gives refuge to Angelotti (James Clayton), a fugitive from the corrupt government of the time. Cavaradossi is the lover of singer Tosca (Orla Boylan), which suits the wicked chief of police Scarpia (Phillip Rhodes) very well.

Scarpia blackmails Tosca into submitting to his lust – “Give yourself to me, or your lover dies!” But Tosca is having none of it and all Scarpia gets is his own knife in the heart then in the back, followed by a shrewd blow with a crucifix for luck.

Time to bring down the final curtain? No! – there’s a whole act still to go. Scarpia’s evil machinations reach from the very grave. There’s a mock execution which turns out to be not-so-mock and Cavaradossi dies. Tosca, heartbroken, leaps to her death. 

From one point of view, you might say that this is an over-spiced stew of politics, sentiment, sadism and grand, preposterous gestures, sauced with Puccini’s lush and glorious music. Perhaps … But it’s also compelling, fast paced and emotionally intense, hurtling from one breathtaking confrontation to another. And that’s just the storyline. As for the music, your critic happily defers to the opinion of his betters, which is to salute Puccini’s score as a masterwork, brilliantly supporting and elevating the action.

Which brings us to this particular production. I confess I sit down to watch it with a certain reluctance. It’s old news, I’m thinking; it’s already been reviewed multiple times, what more can I add? And anyway, do I know enough about opera?

Then the music begins, Angelotti bursts into the chapel of Sant’Andrea della Valle, and I’m caught up in the drama and swept along by the music and the gorgeous singing. A minute later and I’m an instant, besotted fan; because this production is – I won’t say ‘great,’ because I’m not well placed to make comparisons, but utterly satisfying.

The performers seem superb to me; O’Neill, Boylan and Rhodes, each in their own ways, dominate their roles, conquering the technical challenges, bringing psychological depth and subtlety to their characters. O’Neill is the crowd-pleasing favourite, wringing every ounce of sentiment and lyricism out of his part. Boylan’s singing combines awesome power with heart-rending beauty. O’Neill and Boylan work hard on establishing the warmth and passion of their relationship.

But it’s Rhodes whom I really enjoy – his Scarpia is a suave, completely plausible sadist, a big bad cat who gets his kicks from torturing his prey before consuming her. Once again, this is a performance that doesn’t waste a scrap of melodramatic possibility, right down to the last evil, lascivious laugh.

The production is also blessed by very strong performances in the other roles; velvet-voiced Barry Mora as the timid Sacristan is only one example.

It’s obvious that epic amounts of effort and inspiration have gone into this production, because it’s all up there on the stage to see and hear. The lighting is so well designed and eloquent, there are moments when it stands out from all the other sensory inputs (take a bow, lighting designer Jason Morphett). Jan Ubels’ sets deserve their own round of applause, for the spacious, articulate frames they create for the action. And please, another big hand for costume designer Elizabeth Whiting, particularly for Tosca’s costumes – her hat in Act 1 is a poem in fabric and I enjoy the tricolour motif in Act 2.

And of course we must congratulate director Stuart Maunder for bringing together such a consistent and well-integrated work of many arts.

The program goes into some detail about the political context of this production – 1950s Italy, an unholy alliance between centre-right politicians, the mafia and the Church against the Left. Another reviewer has spotted some bitter commentary on the role of the Church built into the action in places. This is all a bit esoteric for me, although I can see that the political theme makes the doomed couple more sympathetic and Scarpia more of a villain.

Shotz Ltd, an Auckland production company, has done a competent, low-profile job of capturing the production on film. Cameras are placed to give the viewer a sense of the grand scale of the production and to remind us that this is a live performance – the orchestra is included from time to time at the bottom of the frame.

I particularly appreciate the way the recording (credit to Radio NZ) has captured that slightly hollow, echoing sound quality you get from a live performance in a big venue. I notice one moment when the sound was a little distorted, but that’s a quibble.

Before I run out of adjectives, compliments are due to the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (conductor Tobias Ringborg) and the Freemasons NZ Opera Chorus.

This Tosca is more than High Art from the canon; it’s an exciting, attractive and compelling entertainment. I recommend it to anyone with the slightest interest in opera, actual or latent.

See it here.


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A celebration of wonderful talent

Review by Georgia Jamieson Emms 31st May 2020

[The review Georgia Jamieson Emms blogged in response to the October 2015 opening of NZ Opera’s TOSCA at Wellington St James Theatre is reproduced here because the production was filmed and will be broadcast on TVNZ 1 on Sunday 31 May 2020 at 10am (Queen’s Birthday Weekend) then remain available through TVNZ OnDemand for a three month period.] 

Last night’s Wellington opening of Tosca is like a great lasagne: perfectly layered and very satisfying. It leaves everyone in a good mood and reminds us of how good it is, and that we must make it more often, even though it takes a while.

Tosca is one of those tricky ones that should be very straightforward and easy to do well, and yet so often it misses the mark. Problems lie in the fact there isn’t a lot of opportunity for grandeur and pomp and big chorus scenes (which New Zealand audiences in particular rather love). Instead the whole thing hinges on the performances of the three key players: Tosca, her lover and the bad guy.  

Fortunately Tosca (Orla Boylan), Cavaradossi (Simon O’Neill) and Scarpia (Phillip Rhodes) are all excellent and the whole thing flies by in a few short, tense hours. The audience is gripped from the opening scene, and even my toilet break at half-time is fraught with tension. As I fix my lippie I am cursing Cavaradossi’s silly mistake of leaving evidence in the chapel (implicating him in helping a prisoner escape). Back in my seat, I have a feeling of dread the moment Evil Scarpia enters the scene looking like Mussolini about to attend a white tie ball.

In fact, Rhodes is in danger of stealing the whole show with his charismatic megalomania. Each move is calculated, from the flick of a napkin to the Mastermind swivelling in the leather desk chair. It is largely because of Rhodes that I finally start to see the famed chemistry between Scarpia and Tosca – although Rhodes seems to have chemistry with everyone on stage, even his weasly sidekick Spoletta (James Benjamin Rodgers) who has a sneer and a Clark Gable moustache to send shivers down your spine.

Simon O’Neill basically comes onto the stage, blows the roof off the theatre and wraps the audience around his little finger. But what is really lovely is the gentle, natural relationship between him and Boylan in their first scenes together. When Cavaradossi takes a bullet to the brain and falls to the floor, those few moments as we wait for Tosca to realise it is no fake execution are agony; we have so wished for a happy ending for these two. All eyes are on Boylan through her anguished cries and mad dash to the top of the battlements.

Here we go, isn’t this what we came for: Tosca throwing herself off the tower? Will there be a trampoline below (fingers crossed!)? Boylan sticks out one foot, like a suicidal Mary Poppins, leans backwards and does the oddest jump I’ve ever seen. I mean, I understand that Boylan needs to land safely and I know I’m quibbling but I just really want to see a good jump!!

Nevertheless, it has to be one of the best endings in all opera. There are no long reflective arias – “goodbye cruel world” etc. – and nobody doing a sad eulogy after her death. There’s no mucking around. High note, jump, curtain down. I love it. It’s clean.

Other reasons to see Tosca: there are at least three very decent arias and one of them is a Magnum ad (which, incidentally, I tensely ate in the interval.) And while we’re talking about the music, having the NZ Symphony Orchestra in the pit is a magnificent decision. It is such a treat to have them.

Shout out to costume designer Elizabeth Whiting for, once again, meticulous attention to detail. I’m pretty sure Boylan is wearing vintage Ferragamo ankle strap kitten heels. The chorus, for the four minutes they are on stage, look delectable: the pencil skirts and peplum jackets! Give me more!

The sets, adapted by Jan Ubels, are simple and brutal. The imposing walls of Scarpia’s office perfectly capture Tosca’s feelings of being trapped and the subtle changes of light bearing down on Scarpia’s corpse is extremely effective. Lighting designer Jason Morphett makes wonderful use of shadow here and in Act Three, with stark, bare lights and chain-link fences. Even the simple clinking of a padlock is chilling.

Special mention to the choir boys and the incense burning in Act One, which takes me back to Catholic school. Thanks, NZ Opera. The whole evening just seems to be a celebration of the wonderful talent we have at our disposal in this country. And as far as a Tosca goes, this is pretty much everything I’ve wanted. 


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Sheer quality, passion and skill

Review by Pepe Becker with Jonathan Kingston-Smith 11th Oct 2015

Post-World War II Italy is the setting for this stunning NZ Opera production of Puccini’s Tosca. The late forties and early fifties is a strange and unsettled time in Europe – the Italian Monarchy is shattered and in its place a tenuous Democracy has formed.

The Catholic Church casts a leaden shadow over all political proceedings. The Christian Democrats have seized power, motivated chiefly by the populace’s fear of the Soviet Union, and have entered into a tacit agreement with the newly-established Mafia. In return for their muscle (intimidation, assassinations and menace) which the Christian Democrats employ to their ends, the Mafia are given freedom to engage in certain illegal practices of their own. It is a time of dark deals done in locked rooms – of suspicion, violence, corruption and secret police.

Placing the opera in this context is a stroke of brilliance by director Stuart Maunder. His creative team and all involved – not least the phenomenal singers, who all demonstrate excellent technique, vocally and theatrically – bring this idea to life with absolute commitment. They adroitly use the interplay between the characters to portray the greater power-plays between church and state: a personal, human illustration of the wider, sociopolitical themes within the opera, which were as relevant in the 1950s as in 1800 (when the original work was set). 

Tosca is based upon a popular play by Victorien Sardou and – unlike many other operas – captured the love and admiration of audiences right from its debut performance in 1900. Simon O’Neill (as Mario Cavaradossi) executes the same trick here, enthralling the audience from his very first notes – particularly resonant and ringing in his higher register, drawing spontaneous applause on certain words, such as ‘Vittoria, vittoria’ – and maintaining an intensity throughout, which affirms him as New Zealand’s leading tenor and indeed one of the finest in the world.

His rapport with leading lady Irish soprano Orla Boylan, as his lover, the passionate and possessive Floria Tosca, is tenderly convincing. Their characters are well-conveyed, both in their singing and physicality.

One would be hard-placed to find a more reprehensible antagonist than the sadistic lecher Baron Scarpia, who, upon discovering that Cavaradossi has aided the escaped political prisoner, Cesare Angelotti, uses this knowledge to manipulate Tosca towards sexual submission in exchange for her lover’s freedom. Phillip Rhodes is commandingly sinister throughout: his rich, rounded baritone consistently cuts through, even in his lower register.

O’Neill is clearly the dominant force during Act I, and Boylan truly comes into her own in the latter acts. Both give arias replete with spine-trembling moments – for Boylan there’s the sublime ‘Vissi d’arte’, which utilises a beautifully-staged sequence of her crumpling into the shadow cast by the villain. O’Neill’s ‘E lucevan le stelle’ – a recollection, as he awaits his death, of meeting his lover in happier times (with rich, emotive language from Librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa) – is one of the most poignant moments in the opera. 

All three leads are world-class and it is a testament to the operatic (and choral) traditions here that two of them are New Zealanders, as are all but one of the singers who take the minor roles. Many will remember – as I do – singing with Simon O’Neill in his university days and it is clear that his international success has not diminished his very genuine camaraderie with the chorus and fellow cast-members.

James Rodgers is excellent as Spoletta (Scarpia’s assistant), with good, clear diction and characterisation. Veteran of the stage Barry Mora is delightful as the flustered and rigidly pious Sacristan, lending a deft touch of comedic lightness. Australian baritone James Clayton, as the hapless Angelotti, acquits himself extremely well, his voice clear and strong throughout his all-too-short appearance. Wade Kernot and Matt Landreth also provide solid support in their smaller roles as Sciarrone and the jailer respectively. 

The shepherd boy (sung by treble Archie Taylor in well-tuned and faintly husky tones) provides an eerie innocence in the entr’acte between Acts II and III. This is another example of Puccini’s incredible ability to guide the emotions and, in this case, cast light upon the dark irony of the Church’s allegiance with the Mafia.

The chorus – well-prepared, as always, by Michael Vinten, with repetiteur Bruce Greenfield – are empathetic commentators, both on and off-stage, and are particularly strong in the final unison Latin phrases of Act I, where the atmosphere of ardent and menacing ‘faith’ is palpable in the church, enhanced further by the presence of real incense and the dark, brassy bass notes in Puccini’s orchestration. Swedish conductor Tobias Ringborg (apparently working without a score) draws wonderful playing from the NZSO, particularly from the woodwinds in the quieter moments. 

Special mention must go to Jan Ubels’ set design. It stunningly captures the vastness and overwhelming nature of the church in the opening scene: via impassive walls of dark wood, ceilings that swoop endlessly upwards into shadow, and cleverly scaled-down furniture – all lending the impression of a cavernous structure that dwarfs the characters within it. It also converts cunningly into an equally-overwhelming drawing room for Act II, and finally to an execution ground beneath a storm-strangled sky for Act III.

The lighting design by Jason Mophett is also ingenious and conveys a superb atmosphere throughout, the afore-mentioned shadow-throwing being a particular highlight. 

Costume designer Elizabeth Whiting has the cast primarily dressed in neutral hues and monochromes, punctuated with bold splashes of colour for excellent dramatic effect.

Apart from a brief technical glitch resulting in the loss of surtitles (unfortunately at Tosca’s first entry), the staging and direction created an utterly convincing atmosphere. 

“Never before has life seemed so precious” are the words that Cavaradossi sings as he realises that his final moments are drawing near. Those words haunted in the 1900s and they were no less relevant in the 1950s, just as they still ring true today. The fragility and preciousness of life is one of the great universal truths. Tosca is one of the great masterpieces of Opera and while there have been many renditions of it, there are very few that can match this production for sheer quality, passion and skill.

“Life is precious…” Seize the moment: go see NZ Opera’s Tosca


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A thrilling experience

Review by Penny Dodd 20th Sep 2015

If you’ve ever wondered what the fuss about opera is all about, you will find the answer in this Tosca, on stage at The Aotea Centre right now. This is the full blooded, overwhelming tidal wave of grand passionate music and drama that will have you hooked for life.

At least three times in the performance I feel reason depart and sensation and emotion take over, and all this in a concert hall I was convinced was too cold to be able to deliver such a buzz. NZ Opera makes it work, skilfully, and gorgeously.

While we always get really fine singing from NZ Opera, this seems to be at an even higher level than usual.  Simon O’Neill is a Kiwi boy, gone to fight at the barricades of the Opera World, and has come home triumphant and victorious at the height of his powers. His voice is so free, so flowing, so focused and flexible. As Mario Cavaradossi his tenor bravura is always right on point, in character, serving the story and thereby, serving us, the audience. He’s a world class tenor at the top of his game.

Philip Rhodes, as the dark voiced villain Baron Scarpia, is right there with him vocally. The colours and power that he produces, his characterisation and concentration shows a fine operatic performer on the way up.

Orla Boylan as Tosca is superb in every way. Her loving, jealous, insecure and totally gorgeous Floria Tosca makes her way into your heart, and her voice is beautifully matched with her two partners.  A rich, beautiful and powerful voice, her ‘Vissi d’arte’ is a masterpiece of dramatic delivery, rising from a state of paralysed shock to full passion. 

In the supporting roles, Barry Mora shines as the Sacristan. Beautifully sung, and superbly acted, he brings such life to the character.

Puccini’s music is the story teller. It is like a film score and the film all in one – the characters, the action, the heights and depths of emotion, from terrible to tender verging on melodrama at such a pitch of operatic intensity. The wise, sympatico and clever director we have in Stuart Maunder has presented this storytelling superbly. 

His shift in background, with the political setting of 1950s Italy, serves to make the characters more of our time, therefore more like us, so that we can feel their tragedies in a personal way. The spotlight falls on the Catholic Church, and the inclusion of the Mafia and the post WW2 politics stir the pot, so that sadistic powerful characters such as Scarpia and his henchmen can be believable.

Maunder’s collaboration with designers – set, costume and lighting – has produced a resulting production that is greater than the sum of the parts. The lighting (Jason Morphett) with massive shadows, and fierce intensity at times is great. The costumes (Elizabeth Whiting) make everyone look good and look the part, beautifully. The set (Jan Ubels) – massive, solid, towering and understated – is a coup for this production. The reflective nature of the solid walls pushes the voices out into the space, so that Scarpia’s upstage muttered comments and Tosca’s grappling with her dilemma are perfectly balanced.  The stark final scene, with its horrifying brutal conclusion is breath-takingly impressive.

Last and never least is the contribution of the orchestra and chorus. The APO delivers magnificent committed playing, with a thrilling dynamic range under the faultless direction of Tobias Ringborg. The pianissimo, the vibrant string playing and the full throated roar of brass and percussion is never less than spot on. Special mention goes to the solo clarinet in ‘E lucevan le stelle’, and the bells all around the auditorium.  The Freemasons NZ OPERA chorus under John Rosser give us a roof-raising Act One finale I will never forget.

If you’ve never been to an opera before, go to this one. If you’ve seen many Toscas and think you don’t need to see another one, go to this one. From the crashing Scarpia chords to the boy soprano it’s a thrilling experience.


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