John Bell’s production of Toscahas made regular appearances on the Opera Australia schedule since it debuted in 2013. Updating the action from 1800 to 1943, Bell sets the opera amidst the Nazi occupation of Rome in a dramatic, beautifully designed (by Michael Scott-Mitchell) staging that draws on his years of experience in the theatre. From the monumental, marble-lined cathedral of Act I to the concrete and barbed-wire prison of the finale to many fine details in the acting, it’s a production that keeps the audience hooked – and in this revival, under director Matthew Barclay, it retains its impact some eight years on.

Diego Torre and Carmen Giannattasio Diego Torre and Carmen Giannattasio in Opera Australia’s  Tosca. Photo © Prudence Upton

While the use of Nazi symbolism on stage might sit uncomfortably with some viewers, particularly given the growing threat of far-right extremism in Australia and around the world, in Bell’s hands it’s more than just dramatic wallpaper – he crafts a psychologically astute narrative that highlights the personal drama, compromise and terror of living under such a seedy, tyrannical regime.

The setting raises...