Tobias Ringborg and Phillip Rhodes in Tosca: ‘Spellbinding!’

21 September 2015

The new production of Tosca from New Zealand Opera has been incredibly well received by audience and critics alike. New Zealand born baritone Phillip Rhodes ‘is brilliant in the part of the fanatically evil Scarpia, delivering the part with aplomb, in the nastiest possible way.‘
He is joined in this production by another Rayfield Allied artist, conductor Tobias Ringborg, who’s performance was equally enthusiastically reviewed: ‘What really made the evening compelling was the spellbinding musical direction of Swedish conductor Tobias Ringborg.’

As Scarpia, Phillip Rhodes has just the right power and charisma to catch the character’s unredeemed villainy. Far from the wigged and corpulent old lecher you might have had, decades ago, in a period production, the New Zealand baritone is lean and sexy, a Mafioso wolf prowling for prey in Maunder’s post-Mussolini Italy. Rhodes’ voice soars above the strong-voiced chorus in Act I’s Te Deum, and yet he can be snake-like and subtle, laying out his personal credo of evil. You will be spellbound from Puccini’s dramatic opening chords, delivered by a magnificent Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, under a conductor, Tobias Ringborg, who knows how to make the music bloom.” William Dart,NZ Herald, 22/9/2015

It would have been easy for Rhodes’ Scarpia to be overshadowed by all this Wagnerian-scale singing from the romantic leads but he more than held his own through a combination of rich baritonal vocalism and a sense of barely restrained violence. His rather elegant stage deportment matches well with his suavity of tone, making Scarpia legitimately attractive in his dealings with Tosca. This elegance makes his sudden ferocious outbursts of anger, both vocal and physical, all the more shocking – a much more interesting portrayal than your usual venal tyrant. His voice also has enough richness to make himself the centre of the busy Te Deum scene, even with the hefty dose of incense. What really made the evening compelling was the spellbinding musical direction of Swedish conductor Tobias Ringborg. Here is a musician who completely understands Puccini’s music; when to move forward to avoid any sentimentality-filled wallowing and when to pull back to create a mesmeric moment. He created plenty of tension to go with that on stage, but also delivered superbly controlled rubato. Line was always paramount, making each new musical episode seem logically born out of the previous. The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra followed their conductor’s lead with maximum flexibility. Special attention should be called to the gloriously soaring string tone doubling the voices in the love duet and the plaintive wind solos so atmospheric in the opening of the last act. It is fantastic to hear the orchestra as an equal dramatic player in its own right, here matching the stellar contributions of those on stage.permeating out from the thuribles.” Simon Holden, Bachtrack, 19/9/2015

“As it turned out the most intriguing performance on stage was that of Rhodes as Scarpia. His youthful looks were far removed from the sleazy, brutish character that we often see, presenting rather a virile, masculine villain that in a different situation might have had little difficulty in seducing Tosca. (…) His virile baritone voice was sumptuous in texture, riding the orchestral and choral waves in the ‘Te Deum’ at the end of Act 1, matching Tosca’s outbursts in Act 2 note for note, and dominating every scene he was in as any good Scarpia should. In the pit Tobias Ringborg and the Auckland Philharmonia gave a powerfully dramatic performance of the score that served both the singers and the work well, while the chorus contributed strongly particularly with their powerful and chilling rendition of the ‘Te Deum’ at the end of Act 1.” Michael Sinclair, The Opera Critic, 19/9/2015

“Phillip Rhodes‘s performance as Baron Scarpia is excellent, brimming with malice and a thug-like authoritative control. He has a wonderful voice and was an excellent casting choice, able to stand alongside the powerful O’Neill. His portrayal perfectly captures that dark quality of corrupted people in power at the top, who can outwardly keep a calm and almost civilised manner, whilst simultaneously being the most ruthless and inhumane monsters imaginable.(…) The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of Tobias Ringborg was wonderfully polished and clear.” Sam Jury, Broadway World, 22/9/2015

“Swedish conductor Tobias Ringborg knows every word and every note of this opera and conducts the Auckland Philharmonia with immense energy from the pit. Phillip Rhodes’ Baron Scarpia is vocally menacing, particularly in the Te Deum.” Takeshi Ito, Stuff, 18/9/2015

“Rhodes, who has achieved recognition on the international opera stage, is brilliant in the part of the fanatically evil Scarpia, delivering the part with aplomb, in the nastiest possible way.” Marianne Kelly, Time Live, 18/9/2015

“The romantic, freethinking artist Cavaradossi (Simon O’Neill) and the sleazy, greasy Scarpia (Philip Rhodes) were convincing in their tragic ideals, with the latter’s dark looks perfect for his mafia-infused role.” Antonina Elliott, National Business Review, 18/9/2015

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. 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.” Penny Dodd, Theatre Review, 20/9/2015

“As in any tragedy, love must be met with a destructive force. New Zealand’s own Phillip Rhodes takes on the dastardly Baron Scarpia, enforcer of the law with an iron fist and his band of lackeys. Rhodes relishes in the performance, giving life to the conniving Scarpia as he entertainingly plans to ignite Tosca’s jealousy and tear the lovers apart. Supported by the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation, Rhodes is absolutely one to watch.” Emma Keesing, Concrete Playground, 18/9/2015

“The villainous Baron Scarpia, played by Phillip Rhodes, embodies the manipulation and strength of this evil man who looks so suave he could’ve stepped out of Goodfellas or The Godfather. He’s a wonderful performer whose voice adds the right level of perilous gravitas the story needs.” Ingrid Grenar, Keeping up with New Zealand, 19/9/2015

The production with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is in Auckland on 23, 25 and 27 September, and travels to Wellington for another four performances on 10, 13, 15 and 17 October. Click here for more information.

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