Tosca reappeared at the Met last night, only to prove that terrific voices and a soprano with savvy still can’t overcome Luc Bondy’s production, not to mention a debuting conductor with some strange ideas about tempos.
Patricia Racette, one of my favorite singers, was the reason I went back to see this production, which garnered a ton of brickbats when it premiered. At the outset let me say that I love singers with brains. Not just musical brains–dramatically wired brains. What I want to see is the result of what baseball players frequently yell at each other from the dugout: “Have an idea out there!” I’ve never found Ms. Racette to be without one, though even she couldn’t make me like Tosca all that much in the first act. After Cavaradossi establishes a rapport with the audience in the melting “Recondita armonia”, Tosca’s jealous fit is a bit much. But Racette reeled us in when she met Scarpia and he played on that jealousy, literally bringing her to her knees. As for Act II, Pat really did it up royally. She was marvelous when she arrived at Scarpia’s apartment and it became clear she was under suspicion as to the whereabouts of the fugitive Angelotti. There was fear, but more than that, the look on her face was pure Tosca-as-diva: “How do I play this?” For some reason I immediately thought of Casablanca’s Major Strasser and his interrogees–maybe it’s the similarity between the letters of transit and the safe conduct Tosca demands. The most controversial portion of this production comes after Tosca stabs Scarpia–the iconic candelabra and crucifix are nowhere to be found. This is the third time I’ve seen it, but not until last night did the stage action following the murder become worth watching. Patricia Racette wasn’t just acting “Oh my God, what have I done?”–she showed us Tosca’s subsequent self-loathing, her fleeting thoughts of suicide and her shocked recognition of the murderer she’s become. For once Tosca’s sinking onto the sofa and fanning herself at the end of the act was logical and real–Racette wonderfully conveyed “I’m in a nightmare, but I’ll be OK once I catch my breath.” Oh, and by the way? She sang the hell out of the part.
Roberto Alagna was Cavaradossi, but more than that, he was a tenor on a mission. On Monday night he had sung Faust, subbing for an ailing Joseph Calleja, so on Tuesday night he was obviously hell-bent to prove he had the goods to sing a second leading role in 24 hours. He does and he sounded marvelous, but forget about dramatic values. I like Alagna, but I’ve found him to be two entirely different singers. As a French tenor he’s terrific–I saw him do an excellent Werther several seasons ago, and his performance as Don Jose is alone worth the price of sitting through Carmen yet one more time. But Italian opera brings out his hambone tendencies, and his “E lucevan le stelle” while superb vocalism, didn’t hold a candle to the version I heard Marcelo Alvarez deliver last season. At that performance it wasn’t just an aria, it was a palpable remembrance of Cavaradossi’s sensual night with Tosca, and sung with a dramatic awareness that few singers, let alone tenors, possess. The crowd loved Alagna, though, and cheered like mad.
George Gagnidze was the Scarpia, and while he was good, I like some suavity to go along with the sadism. At least he didn’t engage in the manhandling I saw Falk Struckmann resort to with Sondra Radvanovsky last season, which turned the opera into a WWF match. A note to Mikko Franck, who made his Met conducting debut last night: if your singers are turning blue in the face, it’s not a fashion statement–your tempos are too slow.
It was kind of an “awwww no” moment to see a note in the Playbill that Paul Plishka, last night’s Sacristan, is retiring at the end of this run after 45 years at the Met. The memories are plentiful–he was one of the best Falstaffs I’ve ever seen, not to mention a tremendous Boris Godunov, just two of the 83 roles he’s sung. What a career!