Review: Tosca


Opera-goers in Hong Kong often lament the absence of home-grown talent – of which there is plenty – in local productions. The lead roles are frequently taken up by visiting European stars with more stalwart credentials, thereby creating a vicious cycle where the top billing continues to elude local artists, even on their home turf.

This year’s production of Puccini’s Tosca set out to break away from that self-perpetuating cycle. Cavaradossi was sung by not one but three Chinese tenors: China’s Wei Song and Dai Yuqiang, and our own Warren Mok, who also wears the hat as Opera Hong Kong’s artistic director. The title role was performed on alternating nights by award-winning Chinese soprano Hui He and Bulgarian soprano Svelta Vassileva. With the exception of Scarpia, the rest of the supporting cast was all tapped from the local talent pool.

We went to the sold-out show on a Saturday, in a show featuring Mok, Vassileva and Italy’s Davide Damiani as the villain-in-chief. The first thing that struck the audience was the magnificent sets and opulent costumes, which portended a quality production to come.

Vassileva’s portrayal of a jealous diva recalled the vitality of Maria Callas, whose celebrated 1953 EMI recording remains the gold standard for Tosca six decades later. Vassileva punctuated her elegant phrasing with the occasional pianissimo that showcased her vocal prowess. Not to be upstaged, Mok gave it his all, including a deeply moving rendition of ‘E lucavan le stelle.’ That his voice gave out somewhat toward the end of the third act took little away from an otherwise first-rate performance. Also worth-mentioning was Freddie Tong’s Angelotti, a booming baritone virtually indistinguishable from the world’s finest.

The key to a good tragedy is a strong villain. Damiani made a compelling Scarpia and lit up the stage in every scene in which he appeared. The opera rounded out with Tosca’s famous declaration: ‘O Scarpia, avanti a dio’ (‘O Scarpia, we meet before God’) before the heroine hurled herself off Castel Sant’Angelo and brought an electric evening to a close. The audience rewarded the committed cast with a standing ovation and multiple curtain calls. Jason Y. Ng

Read the interview with leading lady Hui He here.

For more events from Bellissima Italia, the first Italian festival, visit here or for more operas, visit


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