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Glister act

New York City Opera Renaissance’s Tosca “was opera at its most retrograde, an effort to recreate a golden age from a handful of tinsel.” [New York Observer]

  • mrsjohnclaggart

    Good to see a frank description of what from all indications seemed a dreary wrong-headed approach to a far too familiar work.

  • The Poet Lenski

    And we have an early candidate for arts headline of the year.

  • tatiana

    Good reading as always, JJ. But the Bondy “Tosca” didn’t garner boos only for the lack of candles and a crucifix. There was that nasty bit of sacrilegious humping of the Blessed Virgin statue in Act I, the whore party at the beginning of Act II, and Tosca lying about and languidly (catatonically?) fanning herself after Scarpia’s murder.

    • Our Own JJ

      Did I say “only?”

      • tatiana

        Oh, if only it HAD been the only problem with the Bondy! I agree with Ivy in her comment further down the string as far as that production’s inadequacies. I for one was thrilled to hear such gorgeous singing of the title role last Thursday night.

        • armerjacquino

          The thing about the Bondy production- which I must say, I’m not mad about- is that there’s plenty to talk about; we’re still discussing it nearly seven years in. A production like this, which may be well sung but doesn’t appear to contain a single new idea, is harder to talk about. What is there to say?

    • redbear

      Titania, Bondy’s Tosca was trying to be relevant to modern audiences and didn’t expect it to be bland entertainment. You should take the time to learn about the ugly relationship between the church and governments throughout history which continues to the present (the movie “Spotlight” for instance). Regarding Scarpia, there was Italy’s history with Benito Mussolini. You can Google that name as well as Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister at the time of this staging, and his scandalous parties with whores and underage girls. He was a low class right wing billionaire, wholly out of his element in politics, who got elected by seducing an unhappy electorate with vulgar promises. (This, of course, could never happen in America.) Finally, Titania, Sardou’s text tells of Tosca “falling overwhelmed on a canapé.” Nothing about candles. Fortunately, your Tosca is still on YouTube.

      • armerjacquino

        I often fall overwhelmed on canapés, especially if I haven’t had time for dinner.

        As for Sardou’s stage directions, I don’t think even the most rabid of the ‘Against Modern Opera’ lot would expect them to be followed. It’s Giacosa and Illica’s that matter. Otherwise we’re in a world where nobody should put on OTELLO without a whole dumb-show Venice act first.

      • tatiana

        Redbear,
        First of all, my name is Tatiana (as in Tchaikovsky and Troyanos) not Titania (as in Shakespeare). You can look all of this up on Wikipedia.

        Second, I’m not sure what the rest of your post has to do with Puccini’s opera, just as I’m not sure that Bondy’s production did either. My opinion, and I’m entitled to it despite whatever yours is, is that the Bondy production was ugly, distortive, offensive, and illogical. It served some kind of agenda, but not the actual opera.

        This may come as news to YOU, apostle of the “relevant,” but nobody goes to “Tosca” expecting “bland entertainment.” They just don’t expect or deserve pretentious garbage.

        • redbear

          Stupid response. Read the libretto. The first thing you see in Tosca, the first thing, the very first minute is political. The whole story takes place in dangerous, explosive times and to pretend that that doesn’t exist an insult to Puccini. It is about liberty and self-government against brutal monarchs and their Catholic church allies. All of this goes on and is carefully intertwined with a love story which is consistently blocked by the power of the state. Read the libretto to the end. You might be surprised to learn it is an actual shocking tragedy. You miss you comfort food, obviously.

        • armerjacquino

          ‘ugly’ is not a negative for a production which doesn’t try to be pretty. Discuss.

          (In general, I mean- I’m not getting in amongst you two!)

          • redbear

            I note that everyone in New York seemed to love the set design of Richard Peruzzi, with exactly the same aesthetic as his Tosca, when they saw his new work some months later. But that was a Janacek opera, not Puccini, so it was OK to innovate.

            • PCally

              Redbear, did it ever occur to you that people may just not like Bondy because it was a bad production? I do not need a traditional production (in fact I prefer the opposite) but the Bondy production was basically a traditional production anyway and was also ugly and awkwardly stage. It had very little going for it other than Mattilas commitment and even she looked like she was improvising. Nothing looked motivated and it was most certainly not involving. You disagree with me but my take on it is in no way influence by the need to see a ” traditional” production. Many people who love regie-theatre felt the same way.

        • mrsjohnclaggart

          And Zeffirelli was NOT “pretentious garbage”? So when the church is full of “tourists” with guide books (in 1800 WITH A WAR GOING ON FIFTY MILES AWAY?) that isn’t pretentious garbage?

          So when Angelotti and his sister have plotted his escape to a small out of the way church where their family owns a locked chapel, he according to ILLICA wrote what PUCCINI set (and the composer controlled every word, so much so that Illica attacked the opera and the composer after opening night)

          >vestito da prigioniero, lacero, sfatto, tremante dalla paura, entra ansante, quasi correndo. Dà una rapida occhiata intornoÈ Scarpia: dietro a lui Spoletta e alcuni sbirri; Scarpia con grande autorità)>

          >Scarpia enters with among other henchmen Spoletta and says with great authority…La piattaforma di Castel Sant’Angelo.
          A sinistra, una casamatta: vi è collocata una tavola, sulla quale stanno una lampada, un grosso registro e l’occorrente per scrivere: una panca, una sedia. Su di una parete della casamatta un crocifisso: davanti a questo è appesa una lampada. A destra, L’apertura di una piccola scala per la quale si ascende alla piattaforma. Nel fondo il Vaticano e San Pietro.
          (Notte -- Cielo sereno, scintillante di stelle)
          (Si odono, lontane, le campanelle d’un armento: di mano in mano vanno sempre più affievolendosi)

          It says it’s on the roof where Cavaradossi will be executed, it’s night AND THE HEAVENS SPARKLE WITH STARS…

          So Cavaradossi huddled in a prison cell corresponds to that? How does he hear the bells on the animals the boy shepherd is herding?

          WHY does he sing the aria, have you looked at the words, are you sensitive to context? Cavaradossi high up, waiting to be shot SEES the stars, this is the NIGHT he will die and yet… he remembers another night where the stars shone, the earth itself, nature, was magic and … Tosca.

          Distorting even obscuring the point of the aria so Zeffirelli can use the stage elevator because the audience is too stupid to listen to music isn’t PRETENTIOUS GARBAGE?

          EVERYTHING in EVERY Zeffirelli production after 1975 is false, grotesquely observed and exists to administer a blow job to every fool who can’t follow a plot. Which I’m sure is how that moron got his post at the New Yorker.

          I say this humbly as a Narcissistic Sociopath. Thank you very much.

          • PCally

            mjc, I straight up love your comments, even the ones I don’t always agree with. I certainly agree with this one. The zef was a tacky shit show, even when it premiered. And Domingo aside, his premiere cast was just as weak as the Bondy cast (I would take mattila with her strained top notes over whatever behrens was doing any day). Keep up the posts.

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              Thank you PCally. I must watch those blood sugar spikes, maybe my posts would make more sense (actually I don’t have those issues so that’s a joke in poor taste). But you are very kind to try to make sense of it.

              Yes, I was at that first night and subsequent Sinopoli conducted performances. It WAS a good period for Domingo, of whom I am not a fan. But there were others in it we can’t mention. I just listened to the Kaufmann Puccini Sony, which I’ve had forever but never listened to.

              I was surprised to find him sounding “ingolato” — throaty a lot, and thought I detected a worn patch in the fsharp/ g area (g4). I’ve admired his Wagner and Verdi albums but was left cold by this one, though it is hardly bad.

              Curiously he reminded me of some of the later Roswaenge records. I LOVE Roswaenge, which I say with no defense whatever. But as he aged he got that same “thread-like” huskiness (please tell me what I mean) in the same area.

              Oddly, the VERY first conversation I had with M. Alagna YEARS ago was about ROSWAENGE!! “If only I could sing like that!!!” He said. Not a great role model for a young lyric tenor but I was very impressed that he had heard of him and kept my mouth shut (for once).

    • you know? I can understand the desecration of the statue of the Madonna. Back then I argued that Scarpia, for all his excesses and lack of morals understood that there is public behavior and private behavior and would likely not done something like that in front of the religious authorities. He might’ve been powerful, but he stood less than a mile from the Pope, the most powerful man in the world at that time.

      That being said, I always found it ridiculous 9and still do) that people complain about Tosca fanning herself and that there are 2 women who appear semi-naked on stage with Scarpia.

      For starters, we need desperately to drop the puritanism about sex, and nudism; especially considering our obsession with sex and porn. Then we have the stupid idea that there is only one way to stage the end of Tosca’s act 2. So, instead of Maria Callas, sorry, Tosca slowly walking out of the room with her wrap dragging behind her, we saw Tosca trying to compose herself before she left the room. What is so offensive about that?

      I said it back then and I say it now, the issue with the Bondy Tosca is, apparently, the same issue that JJ sees with the NYCOR’s version: They are both boring. One because it thought that it could create art out of some sets without singers to give it justice and the other for being afraid to actually do something daring and trying to placate too many camps all at once.

      • steveac10

        To be fair, the Bondy was far from boring in the spring of 2010 when Kauffmann, Racette and Terfel somehow managed to tear up the stage with minimal rehearsal. Sometimes the right singers can make even the most inert production catch fire.

    • mandryka

      There were some, but not all that many, boos at the premiere of the Bondy Tosca. (Some of the more vociferous boo persons seemed like they might have been plants. The myth of the booed-off-the-stage Bondy Tosca seems to have grown mostly due to the ranting of those who were not there.) The overwhelming majority of that night’s audience cheered long and loud. Every subsequent performance was sold out, and never another boo was heard amid the long and enthusiastic ovations. Facts.

  • pavel
    • Platt plotzed:

      ”That changed when I left the house after the première of the austere and self-indulgent new production, in 2009: the director, the late Luc Bondy, was eager to let us know that his ideas about the piece were much more important than those of the composer and his librettists—and it was only in that aspect that he succeeded.“

      • I always reply to that sort of criticism, “Excellent, madame! Now can you identify the object I am holding aloft? Concentrate, madame!”

        • Ok, so the critical chops are a little iffy, but I’m sure that he must an interesting composer.

          Oh, wait….

  • mercadante

    I agree with the view, expressed here and in an earlier post, that this production was a non-starter from conception. It could possibly have worked as part of a festival presentation with maybe three or four productions of Tosca: a recreation of the original, including acting and singing styles, a mid-century version, and then maybe one or two productions by current directors, to show how the conception of Tosca, verismo, and opera, have changed through the ages. But this was just provincial sounding.

  • I’m going to chime in and say that the harsh reviews for the NYCO Renaissance Tosca are a bit unfair. Latonia Moore was absolutely superb as Tosca — if nothing else, she was worth the ticket. The direction was mediocre and I agree the production attempted to do too much with the recreations. However after looking at the Bondy Tosca for so many years and seeing many singers struggle with the inadequacies of that production this production offered something different.

    • redbear

      “Seeing many singers struggle with the inadequacies of that production” is a statement that assumes everyone knows what you are talking about. I have now seen the production several times, the first right after its debut at the Met and it seemed to work just fine. Subsequent years I have had the same impression although the tension of Bondy’s direction has gotten lax.

      • Very few singers in the revivals I’ve seen bother to do much of the original blocking. The last Tosca, Angela Gheorghiu, completely ignored the original directions.

        • steveac10

          Well then it’s not really the Bondy Tosca is it? It’s Tosca performed in sets designed by Ricard Peduzzi and costumes (from what I could see on various Met Facebook posts) adapted from the original designs of Milena Canonero. Bondy really had nothing more to do with those performances than agreeing to the design team.

          • PCally

            Well the original cast was hardly any better at adapting. They looked every bit as uncomfortable.

  • mrsjohnclaggart

    Ooops a spaz to the end my little tantrum above got confused. Oh well.. I’ll think on poor little Toby Maguire who used to scream with agony during Spiderman (I was on the set for the first one, don’t ask me why) because he has bad psoriasis and in that skin tight rubber rig from which he was hung he was often in agony. (The crew was not nice about him, and although there was a stunt double the director — ask me not who that was --kept insisting that Toby do retakes). He looks better above. At least had Zeffirelli directed we’d have gotten his nude butt.

    • tatiana

      MrsJC,

      Actually, the director of the first (and maybe the second?) “Spiderman” movie was a guy named Sam Raimi (sic).

  • Patrick Mack

    Because Lord how many times have I wondered ….”“why is this happening to Tosca” as “why is this Tosca happening to me?”

    Genius.

  • gustave of montreal

    Perhaps this new company might have chosen something else but a 10000th performance of Tosca. Something “new”, a revival like Alfano’s Risurrezione, Mascagni’s Iris, Giordano’s Siberia, the Zaza of Leoncavallo, like.

  • me

    I for one was happy to see an at least semi-historical production, the premiere re sets and costumes no less, and an alternative to the Bondy. The “ticky tacky” painted set backdrops were fantastically throw back, and I found it charming — so much now a days is video or printed, etc. If this was all we had, I’d complain, but I felt so glad to go -- only sad so many empty seats the night I went

  • redbear

    In other news, Anna Netrebko sang with her new husband, Yusif Eyvazov, for the avant-première Trovatore last night at Bastille. They say the kisses lingered. This was a performance for the under 28s and reaction was warm, they say. Opening night, Sunday, she gets Marcelo Alvarez. Tezier is doing his first Luna.

    • mandryka

      Netrebko’s Sunday twi-night matinee seems, whether one likes the idea or not, to be the only performance selling out the Met this season.