Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tosca Preview 2011-12

Tosca returns to the Metropolitan Opera for the third straight year with a new cast which includes Patricia Racette, Roberto Alagna and Aleksandrs Antonenko

The Production
Luc Bondy's set for Tosca (with furniture so cheap looking that it might as well have come from Ikea) returns to Met for the third straight year. In 2009 this production opened the Metropolitan Opera season starring Karita Mattila and Marcelo Alvarez. When the performance finished the production team was met with boos. Critics called the production "melodramatic", "safe", "gimmicky," and "awkward." In my opinion this production is an atrocious monstrosity. Bondy has no respect for the music and he politely stated that he was only "staging a an opera" in a sardonic tone.In addition he has no sense of direction. His sets which are "stark, spare, and cold" and  his costumes by Oscar winner Milena Canonero don't match time periods. Tosca which is a very strong character is directed by Bondy as a cowardly woman. This is best seen at the end of act 2 after she kills Scarpia. Instead of doing the traditional candle ceremony, Tosca tries to jump out the window and then decides to lie on a couch fanning herself. While there may be nothing wrong with portraying the iconic diva in a new light, the fanning and suicide attempt instead of "foreshadowing Tosca's death" (which i imagine was the intent with her trying to jump out the window come off as pathetic and laughable at the worst possible moment in the opera.

Met general manager Peter Gelb's response to the boos and the critics was to immediately defend the production. However seeing that his ticket prices were poor and audience was not happy, he made plans to bring Franco Zefferelli's staging back the next season stating that his new Ring production which would premiere in the spring was too big to hold Luc Bond'y's production. Angela Gheorghiu  was scheduled for that spring run of Tosca but quickly withdrew when it was revealed that Bondy's production would be the only Tosca. Other stars have also shown their disapproval for Bondy's direction such as Sondra Radvanovsky last seasons Tosca. She expressed her disagreement with Tosca fanning herself after killing Scarpia as well as other directional decisions. Last season in order to improve the production, Bondy made some changes which included lighting effects and more. However these improvements were useless as the Tosca became one of the hardest tickets to sell. One only need to see the over-the-top attempts at advertising and marketing this behemoth. The Met bought airwaves from WQXR 105.9 to schedule an hour program in which Radvonovsky showcased her favorite Toscas, something which has NEVER been done before under Gelb as far as I am concerned.  The production is a co-production with Munich and La Scala di Milano.

The Cast
Patricia Racette returns to her riveting portrayal of Tosca, which she sang for the first time at the Met in 2010
She was hailed for singing for her expressivity, uncommon richness and honesty. Racette is increasingly becoming a house favorite especially for portrayals of Puccini heroines such as Madama Butterfly which was part of the HD performances. More about that later in my upcoming Madama Butterfly preview. Racette made her Met debut in 1995 in the role of Mussetta in La Boheme

Roberto Alagna returns to the role of Cavaradossi, a role he stepped in for for the ailing Marcelo Alvarez last season. He sang strongly and surely as the New York Times stated in their review. Roberto Alagna has sang the role to acclaim all over the world. I for one am not a fan of the tenor because of his tendencies to shout and his lack of technical vocal control. However Cavaradossi is definitely suited well in his voice.


The other tenor Alekansandrs Antonenko is one to watch in this role. A few years ago he made his debut at Salzburg in the role of Verdi's Otello, a role that is known for its difficulty. However, he scored a huge success and has quickly been making a name for himself. In 2009 he made his debut in the role of the Prince in Dvorak's Rusalka. Critics hailed his performance and quickly the Met brought him back for Il Trittico which he starred alongside Racette and Boris Godunov. Critics once again hailed him for his powerful and beautiful voice. I heard him at Carnegie Hall in April in Otello under Muti and he was everything I expected and more. Here is a link to our review.  Without a doubt Antonenko is sure to be a huge success in this role and with his rich and expressive voice can surely steal the show from Racette.

To end the cast both George Gagnidze and James Morris return to the role of Scarpia. George Gagnidze, who made is Met debut in 2008 in the role of Rigoletto added nothing to the role of Scarpia when he sang it in 2009 at Opening Night. His voice sounds old and wobbly. On the other hand James Morris was able to convey Scarpia's elegance when he sang the role at the Chicago Lyric Opera last Season. He has sang numerous Scarpia's at the Met including a run last season in the spring and even though he is no longer at the height of his career and his voice is no longer as bright and strong, he still sings with emotion and with strength.

With a great cast Luc Bondy's production may end up being a second thought as it occurred when Patricia Racette, Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel stepped into the roles in Spring 2010. It may reinforce the notion that singers are still the most important ingredient in opera, regardless of the furniture that surrounds them. 

Past Reviews for this Tosca Production
NY Times
Financial Times
Wall Street Journal

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