High Definition simulcast of the Metropolitan Opera's controversial new
production of Puccini's "Tosca". This replaced the twenty-five year old
Franco Zefferelli production, which, while well-loved, was getting a bit
I had read reviews in the New York Times and agreed with some criticisms
and disagreed with others. Overall, we thought the presentation
excellent and enjoyed it very much. Karita Mattila (Tosca), Marcelo
Alvarez (Cavaradossi) and George Gagnidze (Scarpia) were all excellent
singers and in marvelous voice. In particular, we thought that Gagnidze,
who was singing Scarpia for only the second time, and the first time at
the Met, was a real find. A big man, he has a presence that can be
either comforting, as when he is luring Tosca into his trap, and
menacing. Stage direction in the first act allowed him to be more gently
physical than usual in seducing Tosca, cradling her head on his shoulder
as she weeps at Cavaradossi's imagined betrayal, and tenderly assisting
her off stage at her exit. The close-ups allowed by the HD broadcast
really came into their own as Scarpia then sings his blasphemous
counterpoint to the "Te Deum," showing us his face alternately gloating
and lustful as he imagines Tosca's lover on the gallows, and Tosca in
his arms. "Tosca, you make me forget God!" Indeed.
Matilla sang Tosca flawlessly. Her "Vissi d'Arte" in the second act was
as beautiful as any we could recall. We disagreed with the acting in
this scene in some ways, since she at first seems too much the helpless
victim, which is at odds with Tosca's fiery character as described.
Alvarez was a strong and vigorous Cavaradossi, one of the best we have
seen. Georgie compared him to a young Pavarotti.
In the new production, there were some things that were strikingly good,
and some disappointing. The sets are grim, dark, and stark. The brown
brick backdrop for the first act looks more like an abandoned factory
than a cathedral, and Scarpia's supposed rooms at the Farnese Palace
looked more like a 1950's Soviet-era office. Moving the last act from
the "battlements" of Castel San't Angelo to the water's edge looked good
enough, but required some extra contrivance in Tosca's "escape" that
worked well enough on video, but by some reports, not as well live. By
contrast, the costumes, which referred to the Napoleonic period, but not
in slavish detail, were elegant and handsome.
Scarpia gets to give free rein to his cruel and brutish side in the
critical second act, thus we did not appreciate the addition of three
prostitutes hovering around him as he dines. As he sings, he prefers to
take rather than get voluntarily, and probably would not stoop to
purchase--. Other bits are good: Scarpia lounges boredly on a couch and
stares at the ceiling during "Vissi d'Arte," as if saying "Are you done
yet?" expressing his indifference to Tosca's lament. Tosca hesitates
picking up the knife, but then conceals it with intent to use at the
crucial time instead of grabbing it impulsively at the last minute. When
Scarpia doesn't expire immediately, she stabs him a second time. One of
the things that drew a lot of criticism is that after killing Scarpia,
Tosca does not set candles and cross around his corpse (in fact, there
are none in the room); instead, we liked both the realism and the irony
in that she collapses on a couch, and, near fainting, cools herself with
the same fan Scarpia used to deceive her.
Scarpia's henchman, Spoletto, regrettably uncredited in the truncated
program were given, becomes a real character in this production, leering
at Tosca and mocking her tears, a sort of Renfield to Scarpia's Dracula.
We can clearly see that he wants to be Scarpia when he "grows up."
Another bit of the HD simulcasts we enjoy is the behind-the-scenes
imagery during the intermissions. It is fascinating to see the stage
crew taking down and putting up the huge sets. Cast interviews this time
were less successful than some, due to the fact that none of the
principals are native speakers of English (Gagnidze, in particular, has
very little) and all seemed a bit flustered to be interviewed just
coming off very intense scenes.
The orchestra, under direction of Joseph Colaneri, was up to the high
standards we expect. Stage direction by Luc Bondy, Set by Richard
Peduzzi, and costumes by Milena Canonero.
We are looking forward to future HD broadcasts, with "Les Contes
d'Hoffman" and "Der Rosenkavalier" in coming months.