Tosca has given the Met a lot of trouble recently, or perhaps it’s the other way around. First, this new staging replaced Luc Bondy’s 2009 production which lasted for only 59 performances. Everybody seemed to hate it. I thought, by the standards of today’s stagings of the standard repertory, that it was pretty tame. But hookers in the opera’s second act and no candles by Scarpia’s still warm corpse was too much, so the production was toast.
Next nobody scheduled for the new show showed up. Everybody canceled. First Jonas Kaufmann withdrew. It appears that he no longer wishes to perform on this side of the Atlantic. Then Kristīne Opolais, who was to sing the title role, quit. Her husband, conductor Andris Nelsons said he wasn’t coming. I’m not sure of the order of these two no-shows. Then Bryn Terfel abandoned ship. The Met was left with no principals and no conductor. They gave the baton to James Levine, but he got caught in a sex scandal. The company turned to Emmanuel Villaume. I don’t know if he had conducted the opera prior to his Met appearances leading Tosca.
Sonya Yoncheva and Vittorio Grigolo had never sung Tosca and Cavaradossi before appearing in David McVicar’s new staging. The Met did find a veteran Scarpia in Zeljko Lucic. The story of this production could make a good libretto if Puccini could be recruited to write its music. So the show, as it must, went on.
Designer James Mcfarlane went for conventional operatic realism which these days is so unusual as to be unconventional. Each of the three sets looked pretty much like the Roman buildings they represented. Thus, sets, costumes, and direction were all to the Met’s operatically conservative audience’s taste.
The three main roles are all star vehicles and Tosca’s success regardless of how dressed depends on these three performers. The Met lucked out with all three replacements. The Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva is having a very busy New York season. She’s due to appear in the upcoming HD telecasts of La Bohème and Verdi’s Luisa Miller. Her voice is a rich lirico-spinto which seems to be moving towards a full fledged spinto. She acts well and sounded just the way Tosca should. ‘Vissi d’arte’ earned a well deserved ovation. It was so good that it made up for the complete halt in the action that happens because Puccini couldn’t write an opera about an opera singer and not give her an aria. He had to put it someplace and decided that the middle of the second act was the best place for it. Who am I to question one of the great masters of the theater? Mcfarlane’s high waisted costumes made Yoncheva look pregnant. if she’s not, she should demand a refit
Tenor Vittorio Grigolo is a singer who exudes energy and spirit. He has a bright lyric voice which he pushes to its limit. This makes for a dashing performance, but I can’t but wonder what all this almost manic panache will do to his voice in the longer run. He’s probably the only tenor to have performed both the Shepherd and Cavaradossi. He sang a passionate ‘E lucevan le stelle’, but couldn’t pull off the filete on ‘disciogliea’, though he tried. That shouldn’t count too much against him as the only two tenors I ever heard who could realize this effect were Giuseppe Di Stefano and Franco Corelli.
Baritone Zeljko Lucic has Scarpia down pat. The part lies in the best part of his vocal range and doesn’t make the demands that do the big Verdi parts he sings. His acting was relatively subdued compared to some Scarpias who chew up the scenery with maledictiveness. His death was awarded the customary two candles much to the approval of the Met’s audience.
The smaller parts were all very well performed. Conductor Emmanuel Villaume did a competent job leading the Met’s great orchestra, but he could have coaxed a little more fire and energy out of his band, especially in the middle of the second act. Tosca is a great opera, certain airy critics notwithstanding. The Met gave it an outstanding presentation. This production will doubtless last longer than its immediate predecessor. Good enough to go to the encore presentation, though it’s certain everyone will still die by the end. The only flat note was Gary Halvorson’s video direction. The usual excess – ultra closeups of sweaty faces. Gary get a new pair of glasses.
Giacomo Puccini–Giuseppe Giacosa/Luigi Illica
Shepherd…………….A. Jesse Schopflocher
Lighting Designer…….David Finn
Movement Director…….Leah Hausman
My first Tosca was the Corelli film with actual locations. Gorgeous, despite screechy soprano and dull Scarpia. Beautifully filmed. Lucky me…7 years later I saw Corelli in Tosca. Thanks to the film, my mind pictured the scenes as I watched.
Dear Dr Kurtzman, can you please explain “pull off the filete on ‘discioleglia’?” Is it a diminuendo on the word?
It comes from the Italian word filatura which means to spin. Listen to Corelli’s singing of ‘E lucevan le stelle’ in the article linked which is devoted to a discussion of this technique. He takes a diminuendo on ‘disciogliea’ and then spins it out for an impossibly long duration.
Very grateful for your response. I wonder if you would consider putting down your insights into opera in the form of a book, or two?
Hearing Corelli live sing this discioleglia was a most fantastic opera moment. He held the audience in an orgasmic vice. You could hear a collective ‘jaw drop’ when the phrase ended.