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The Metropolitan Opera

In Review MEt Tosca hdl 318
Sonya Yoncheva and Vittorio Grigolo in Act III of Tosca at the Met
© Beth Bergman

ANOTHER CHAPTER in Tosca’s long association with the Metropolitan Opera began on December 31, when the company rang in the New Year with the premiere of a new staging by David McVicar. Beginning in 1901, when the Met presented the U.S. premiere of Puccini’s opera, Tosca has remained a consistent audience favorite, racking up 950 performances in repertory in New York and on tour by the end of the 2015–16 season.

More than two hundred of the Met’s Tosca performances were presented in the company’s opulent 1985 staging, directed and designed by Franco Zeffirelli; in 2009, the Met replaced the Zeffirelli Tosca with a stark production, directed by Luc Bondy, that was less of a crowd-pleaser than its predecessor. Zeffirelli’s Tosca was just that: the director was the star, and his lavish yet shrewdly devised decor remained eye-filling no matter who was singing. Bondy, who came from a very different theatrical tradition than Zeffirelli, created a Tosca that—whatever the quirks of its astringent pacing and staging—relied heavily on its singers to put the drama across. Popular opinion counts the Bondy staging as a failure, which is unfair—it could and did provide a proper platform for the right Tosca cast, including the dazzling 2010 combination of Jonas Kaufmann, Patricia Racette and Bryn Terfel, a trio as potent as any that inhabited the Zeffirelli. 

Terfel was to have returned to the Met this season for his first local Scarpia since 2011, but illness forced him to withdraw from the cast shortly after rehearsals began, marking the last in a sequence of unfortunate pre-opening cancellations for this new Tosca. That list included Kaufmann and Kristine Opolais, the originally announced Cavaradossi and Tosca, as well as the originally scheduled conductor, Andris Nelsons, followed by his replacement, James Levine. It’s impossible to tell how the show would have been different had even one of the first-draft players been at work on December 31, but the gala audience gave a warm reception to McVicar’s conservative staging scheme and the handsome in-period designs of John Macfarlane, auguring a long, useful life in repertory for this Tosca. The McVicar–Macfarlane Tosca lacks the bracing, feverish vulgarity of the Zeffirelli production, although its sensible look and measured manner will probably appeal to a broader audience than the Bondy production did. Some staging details were odd—a bareheaded Tosca in church, a bit of groping by Scarpia, the Jailer mopping the roof of the Castel Sant’Angelo between executions—but in general the action was clear and straightforward.

Sonya Yoncheva made an accomplished role debut as Floria Tosca. By nature a lyric soprano, Yoncheva currently lacks the full degree of heft and point that dramatic sopranos deploy in the top notes of Tosca’s Acts I and III, but Yoncheva uses her vocal resources with impressive shrewdness. She never forced or oversang, letting the expert text-setting of Act II carry its own weight, and allowing the appealing amber color of her mid range to glow wherever it could. Yoncheva looked smashing, as did her frenetically boyish Cavaradossi, Vittorio Grigolo, whose flashy, tempo-stretching use of dynamics in “E lucevan le stelle” was cheered wildly. Želko Lučić, who stepped into the production just a few weeks before the opening, was an imposing Scarpia despite some lapses in intonation in Act I. Richard Bernstein’s Jailer and Patrick Carfizzi’s Sacristan made positive impressions; the rest of the comprimaros were audibly less seasoned.

Conductor Emmanuel Villaume, who took on this daunting score at short notice, paced Act I too broadly—the love duet emerged shapeless—and struggled with the tricky orchestral details in Act II. —F. Paul Driscoll 


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