|Grigolo and Yoncheva, photo @ Ken Howard|
Wrong. Even though the singers in the recording (Emma Eames, Emilio de Marchi and Antonio Scotti) have voices that today don't sound like natural fits for the opera, the most revealing thing about those Mapleson cylinders is how unrevealing they are. You can imagine everything that's happening onstage just from what the singers are singing. Eames screams at the exact moment you expect her to scream -- when she realizes after the third "Mario" that the execution was real.
Puccini's "shabby little shocker" is choreographed down to the minute. That's it's greatest strength and biggest limitation -- Puccini makes the trains run on time to such an extent that there's very little room for interpretation and creativity. Luc Bondy's 2009 production was an attempt to try something new -- he took away the usual trappings: the ornate Roman church, the candles and crucifix at Scarpia's body, the famous leap into a mattress that all Toscas since time immemorial have taken in the final moments of the opera. Unfortunately he replaced the traditional Tosca with a dreary, industrial, boring production. The best experience I ever had with that production was when Angela Gheorghiu showed up with her own costumes, and completely did her own thing. There wasn't a single Bondy direction she followed. It was great.
|Why is he painting in such a white shirt?|
David McVicar's production which premiered New Year's Eve put Tosca squarely back in the comfort food zone. The production had maybe the highest turnover of any Met new production in recent history -- by the time opening night rolled around we were on our second Tosca, second Cavaradossi, second Scarpia, and third conductor. Yikes. Despite the changes what I saw on the third performance was a perfectly competent, professional performance. As I said, Puccini really makes the trains run on time.
|Yoncheva and Lucic, photo @ Ken Howard|
|Final tableau for Act Three, photo @ Ken Howard|
The most disappointing was Željko Lučić as Scarpia. It's not that his voice is inherently wrong for the part -- it's sort of wooly and rough around the edges but Scarpia is the definition of creep so an ugly voice isn't a detriment. It's not that his acting is uninspired -- in Act Two he definitely gave off a very Harvey Weinstein vibe with the way he constantly tried to invade Tosca's personal space. It's that his overall performance has moments where it just seems like he doesn't much care what's happening. For instance in Te Deum he dropped out of bars and bars of music and seemed to simply mime the words. Was he losing his voice, or simply saving it for the Act Two marathon? Considering that after the intermission his voice was 100% back, I think I know the answer.
Emmanuel Villaume was shoe-horned into the production on short notice and the lack of preparation and rehearsal time was apparent. He sounded better than opening night but overall he just didn't seem to know Tosca's train schedule. His default style is ponderousness and Tosca calls for nonstop urgency, tension, suspense. I'd hate to see him conduct any of Bernard Herrmann's scores.
But the audience went away happy and so did I for the most part. The fact that Grigolo's curtain calls now include him cupping his ear at the audience as if to say "louder, I can't hear you" is just part of the comfort food experience.