Singing the role of Baron Scarpia – the corrupt and lusting antagonist of Puccini’s Tosca – is like meeting an old friend, says baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes.

“If you were mad enough to have a friend like Scarpia,” he laughs. “He’s hardly the greatest guy around.”

Opera at Jimbour, 2023. Photo supplied

Tahu Rhodes is preparing to sing the murderous role during this year’s Opera at Jimbour event at Jimbour House, a historic homestead near Dalby on Queensland’s Western Downs, about 180km to the east of Brisbane. It’s a part he’s deeply familiar with, having sung it in several productions of Tosca previously, such as the West Australian Opera staging in 2017.

“I’m finding it’s a more role interesting role as I get older,” Tahu Rhodes says. “The singing is different, certainly. Some of the things I found difficult when I was younger are much easier now, particularly when it comes to the kind of stamina required, because it’s such a weighty voice. But I also think the way I see Scarpia as a character has a bit changed over the years, too.”

“When I was younger, the temptation was to play the darkness in him. To play the villain. Now, I don’t feel I have to try so hard; I can even find some lighter colours. Years ago, I always felt I had create some physical thing for Scarpia. But when you get older, you realise you don’t always have to be doing something. There’s power in simplicity. I can stand there and be still and let the character come through the music.”

Part of Opera Queensland’s commitment to regional performance (the event is co-presented by Queensland Music Trails), Opera at Jimbour’s in-concert presentation of Tosca features soprano Eva Kong in the title role and tenor Iain Henderson as Cavaradossi, Tosca’s lover, a painter and revolutionary who falls foul of police chief Scarpia’s plan to have Tosca for himself.

“It’s a wonderful story,” says Tahu Rhodes. “So rich and dramatic, particularly if you’ve never seen it before. It’s one of those gateway drugs into opera.”

Teddy Tahu Rhodes. Photo © Peter Tarasiuk

Notable, too, is that Tosca at Jimbour takes place in the centenary year of Puccini’s death in 1924. “I haven’t sung a tremendous amount of his work in my career, but I do owe him something,” says Tahu Rhodes. “I got my big break thanks to Puccini.”

In 1998, Tahu Rhodes recalls, he was a New Zealand-based up-and-comer singing the role of Marcello in a Canterbury Opera production of Puccini’s La bohème. “One way or another, that got me noticed and it was through that I got my first audition with Opera Australia.”

For opera novices, a first-time encounter with Puccini’s music in a place like Jimbour makes it more memorable still, Tahu Rhodes believes.

“I’ve done a few Outback performances now and they are fantastic for audiences and for singers. These are some of the most spectacular locations you could wish for and to work outside of the four walls of a regular theatre is such a pleasure.”

“Singers, musicians … we all have to work just as hard as we would in a normal venue but when you’re in an environment like this, and when you get to interact with the audience – some of whom have travelled a really long way for the experience – you really feel appreciated for what you do.”

Opera at Jimbour, 10–12 May, Jimbour, Queensland. More details and bookings here.

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