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A Hated Production Bows Again.

New York
Metropolitan Opera
10/16/2015 -  & October 21, 24, 29, November 2, 6, 11, 14, 18, 21, 25, 28, December 1, 2015
Giacomo Puccini: Tosca
Richard Bernstein (Angelotti), John Del Carlo (Sacristan), Roberto Aronica (Cavaradossi), Angela Gheorghiu (Tosca), Zeljko Lucic (Scarpia), Tony Stevenson (Spoletta), James Courtney (Sciarrone), Daniel Katzman (Shepherd), Tyler Simpson (Jailer)
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus, Donald Palumbo (chorus master), The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Paolo Carignani (conductor)
Luc Bondy (production), Richard Peduzzi (set designer), Milena Canonero (costume designer), Max Keller (lighting designer)

R. Aronica (© Marty Sohl)

The premiere of Luc Bondy’s bland and barebones Tosca provoked outrage when it opened the 2009-2010 season. The boos and jeers did not result from a radical reinterpretation or an overwhelming "Eurotrash" affect, however. The near universal disapproval was firmly rooted in a sense of the disappointment that arises from simple boredom. Even Met general manager Peter Gelb, who has championed "updates" of his house’s classic repertoire productions, has publicly admitted that this venture was a "mistake." Age has done nothing to improve Bondy’s production. After more than two decades of Franco Zeffirelli’s heavy yet stunningly detailed recreation of the opera’s Roman locales, Bondy’s austere first and third acts rely on reductive yellow brick walls and empty black backdrops. The second act imposes a gauche room with a map of the city and some plush sofas in place of Scarpia opulent apartments in the Palazzo Farnese. Characterizations remain insipid. It is hard to show Cavaradossi and Tosca as anything other than innocent lovers destroyed by base tyranny, but Scapria is unwisely stripped of his aristocratic veneer to look like a perverted and ill bred gangster, groping the statue of the Virgin Mary in Act I and lounging with a bevy of painted ladies of the night in Act II.

Even the most challenged productions can give a platform to talented singing, and this revival happily overcame its visual limitations in that respect. In the title role the veteran lyric soprano Angela Gheorghiu returned with a cooler and less sparkling voice than one remembers from the earlier years of her career. Tosca’s most dramatic moments emerged in fine relief from the bland sets, while the signature Act II aria "Vissi d’arte" proved a virtuoso rendition that drew justifiably sustained and enthusiastic applause. Zeljko Lucic recovered from his disappointingly restrained opening night performance as Iago in Verdi’s Otello to deliver an exquisitely well sung Scarpia. Although the direction continues to diminish the character’s versatility – which has him range from cunning police chief to charming comforter to bloodthirsty sex extortionist – Lucic’s vocal contributions made these intriguing twists and turns at least musically inescapable and even quite appealing. Roberto Aronica’s Cavaradossi produced some ringing high notes in the most dramatic moments but could hardly be described as beautifully sung. Maestro Paolo Carignani brought verve to the orchestra and chorus.

Paul du Quenoy



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