Cher Public

Bringing up Bondy

Is it not enough that the more ignorant segments of the public and the critical establishment continue to shout praise to David McVicar‘s torpid Tosca as the greatest triumph of the reactionary since the Bourbon Restoration? Must we also endure the smug smirking of the likes of Justin Davidson, who yet again has leapt at the opportunity to kick the cold corpse of Luc Bondy

Look, everyone at the time notes that the Bondy production had some major technical issues. But unlike the Zeffirelli it succeeded and the faux-Zeffirelli all the marble-and-ormolu fangirls are creaming about currently, the Bondy had some things very few productions of Tosca can claim: a point of view and a connection to the society its public inhabits.

This is what I wrote when the production opened:

For this, the tale of a 19th-century Roman opera diva and the political prisoner who loves her, Bondy downplayed the glamour to evoke the horrors of torture as an interrogation technique.

Instead of the sunny cathedral of Zeffirelli’s set, we saw a dank bricked-up catacomb. Tosca is summoned for questioning to a grimy waiting room, where the police chief has just been serviced by hookers.

Bondy deserves kudos for taking the opera seriously and for guiding Mattila’s harrowing portrait of the woman’s gradual mental breakdown. The showstopper aria, “Vissi d’arte,” was turned from pious prayer into a numb realization that, in her hour of need, Tosca could expect no help from God, while the murder scene, for once, looked like a real act of violence: messy and ugly.

In contrast to Sonya Yoncheva‘s handsomely-sung concert version of Tosca’s prayer, let’s take a look as what Karita Mattila did with the same scene:

And what of the much-derided curtain for the second act, as seen in the photograph above: Tosca reclining on the sofa and slowly fanning herself? Back in 2009, all anyone was talking about was the missing candles. (You know, the ones decreed on the third Sinai Tablet?)

But in 2018 it seems quite clear that what Bondy was getting at in this scene was a depiction of the “freezing” disassociation phenomenon described by victims of sexual violence.

One Tosca was thoughtful; the other is pretty. And by endorsing the McVicar, Peter Gelb has made it perfectly clear what the Met’s priorities are from now on.

Photo: Ken Howard