Cher Public

Safe passage

“All right, I’m ready for my closeup.”

A Met HD cinema broadcast of Puccini’s Tosca on Saturday, 27 January, concluded the first run of a production marked by upheaval in the ten months between its announcement and its New Year’s Eve premiere. For readers who have been in a cave meditating—and have made an unfortunate choice of reading material upon their reemergence—none of the three originally scheduled star singers was still attached by opening night. Conducting duties had been twice reassigned, with the second conductor’s removal connected to lurid headlines. 

As I had expected, the scripted copy for the broadcast’s hostess, mezzo Isabel Leonard, downplayed behind-the-scenes drama. The audience was reminded only that the lead soprano had agreed to step into the production on “short notice,” and that she was singing her first-ever Toscas on an accelerated schedule.

If history is any guide, ousted music director emeritus James Levine would have been the subject of a coaxed testimonial from every singer and maybe some orchestra members had his accusers kept quiet and he had conducted this performance.

As things stand, his image has even been scrubbed from the Bloomberg sponsorship montage (“We share a passion for drama”) that opens HD broadcasts. In the #metoo remix, his place has been taken by music director designate Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Nothing and no one is irreplaceable.

Where the productions of Franco Zeffirelli are concerned, many Metgoers may beg to differ. To them, two hundred opportunities over 21 years to see the Italian director’s Reagan-era scenic spectacular were not sufficient.

The rather timid provocations of a muddled 2009 Luc Bondy replacement (the late Bondy’s only Met work, unfortunately) offended traditionalists, and the Bondy Tosca never inspired much of a “pro” contingent to argue with the “anti” one. If you did not hate it, you probably were moved to no more passionate a declaration than “I don’t mind it.”

Bondy’s unloved effort got the broom at just shy of 60 performances, and GM Peter Gelb ordered up a new Tosca from a reliable hand. Scottish director David McVicar, whose ninth Met production this is, occupies a position in the present order similar to Elijah Moshinsky‘s with the Joseph Volpe regime.

Both of these Anglos are intelligent professionals who have the measure of the house and can get a show in on time and on budget. Neither does work that is likely to shake anyone up. Some of McVicar’s early, pre-Met work was mildly controversial, but those days now seem very distant.

I should disclose that I was never among the admirers of the Zeffirelli Met Tosca. The day before seeing the HD, I revisited the DVD of the 1985 performance with its premiere cast, and found that time had not moved the needle. I still found it overblown, cynical, heedless of logic. It came from past the point when Zeffirelli’s impulses had become primarily decorative, as he put big-donor bucks toward repeating himself in ever-gaudier excess.

McVicar and set/costume designer John Macfarlane have better taste than Zeffirelli had by the mid-1980s, but the shadow of Zeffirelli’s Met production hangs over theirs. Both productions are cluttered with supers. Both have a fire blazing in the fireplace of Scarpia’s study (in June, in Rome). Both aspire, at the start of Act Three, not to atmosphere but to long minutes of irrelevant, overpopulated “business.”

“Non mi ravvisate? Il carcere m’ha dunque assai mutato?” Angelotti asks of Cavaradossi in the first act. In both productions, the bass singing Angelotti looks so healthy, rested, well dressed and well groomed that the question is puzzling. In McVicar’s, I can only assume Angelotti was clean-shaven before his ordeal. Now he has a neatly trimmed beard.

McVicar does seem to have made choices in consideration of his changing premiere cast. I believe there are interactions here he might have directed differently with, for example, a more mature Tosca or a younger, more magnetic Scarpia. But the overriding impression is of neutrality, which is both a strength and a weakness.

It is a production I expect to hold up well, as they say, and to serve the Met for longer than its immediate predecessor did. New singers will fit into it and fill its spaces with their interpretations. Macfarlane’s opulent yet smartly scaled sets will remain, as will most of his costumes. A different Tosca may get an Act Two gown with a less revealing cut than the one the present soprano wears.

Presumably, the 200+-minute run time of a broadcast with two hours of music was a case of the Met taking advantage of a large audience for leisurely promotions (of L’elisir d’amore and Semiramide), rather than of interminable intermissions being necessary for this Tosca. The run time listed on the Met’s website is more sensible, under three hours.

Some reviewers have noted that nothing in the production is “revelatory.” I am not sure that that would be possible with this work in 2017-18, for those of us who have seen our share of Toscas. I no longer expect Tosca to give up secrets. I feel I am seeing a great Tosca when it grips me, and even though I know everything that is going to happen next, the singing actors almost fool me that they do not.

At the levels of suspense, intrigue, lifelike detail, and getting everything possible out of what Puccini, Sardou, Illica and Giacosa provided, this is not a remarkable Tosca. It settles for being handsome, diverting and straightforward.

Its greatest onstage asset is its leading lady. The daring Sonya Yoncheva is presently much in demand. When she agreed to add Tosca to her 2017-18 Met workload, following Kristine Opolais‘s departure, it put her in three of ten scheduled HD broadcasts. She is at the point in her career where people complain about overexposure and “worry” (sincerely or otherwise) for her vocal longevity.

I can only say that I have seen and heard her in a number of more and less congenial roles now, and I respect and appreciate her commitment to bringing characters to life in her dramatic response and her shaping of music. She does not coast.

Much of what Yoncheva does here is interesting and well considered. Her Tosca in the first act is longer on seriousness than either hauteur or feminine charm. She is irritable, and one senses the irritability is rooted in insecurity. “Tornalo a dir!” is not imperious; there is a fearful edge to it. This is a young diva, a little harried and flustered, and her Cavaradossi is not so suave in his handling of her. He communicates that she can be wearying, but she is worth the trouble.

Yoncheva’s progression through the drama of Act Two has persuasive detail. She takes care to mark each stage as Tosca apprehends (as much as she is going to) how much trouble she and Cavaradossi are in, and how high the stakes are in a world previously unknown to her. The soprano surprises with a rich lower register; there is shine and clarity to the middle, and the top, never a glory, is creditably negotiated. “Vissi d’arte” is poised, with fine legato.

One of the production’s most distinctive (and timely) touches is the graphic nature of Scarpia’s pawing of the heroine, and this time there is no ambiguity in Tosca’s response, no subterranean erotic charge between them. She finds him repellent. Although the prop knife is poorly chosen (more an issue in an HD broadcast than it would be in the house), the murder is well staged. Scarpia is plausibly caught off guard; Tosca’s knife thrust is quick and savage, and the heroine does not stop at inflicting one wound.

This is also a cannier Tosca than some. “Io già raccolsi oro e gioielli,” she sings to Cavaradossi in the third act. Sometimes the line sounds as though it is coming from a diva unable to part with accumulated luxuries—a cousin to the same composer’s materialistic Manon Lescaut, who lingers to her undoing. Yoncheva’s Tosca is obviously concerned with survival, her own and Cavaradossi’s, and with gathering what she can sell to make that easier.

Vittorio Grigolo is a singer who “shows up,” in both senses. He is not prone to cancel, and he has a born performer’s zeal and a corresponding lack of inhibition. I have found his performances of French tenor roles in recent Met and ROH seasons stylish and charming, but his Cavaradossi is a less happy encounter.

This time all the high-energy carrying on seems in the service of compensating for a voice too slight to fill out the music ideally. Grigolo sounds at or near his limit much of the time; one is aware of tonal restrictions. While he makes it through and does not embarrass himself, it is not a performance I would enjoy hearing on a recording or a radio broadcast.

I could admire Zeljko Lucic‘s workaday Scarpia in no circumstances. McVicar aims for understated menace rather than italicized villainy with this character, but in both vocal and dramatic terms, Lucic plods through a familiar part, conjuring an unpleasant functionary.

There is little to note in the way of profile or memorable engagement with the other singers. Lucic does not even bother to moderate his breathing while playing dead on camera. Even under broadcast conditions, his roughening baritone is underpowered, occasionally covered by the orchestra, notably in Act One’s massive Te deum.

Best of the others is Christian Zaremba‘s Angelotti, a promising house debut. Lines are nicely etched in a good firm sound, and the bass brings some presence to his brief role, even if I feel McVicar and Macfarlane have him looking too well turned out to convey a fugitive’s desperation. Patrick Carfizzi, a young singer for the Sacristan (frequently a “welfare role”), seems to be going for a distracted delivery –an interesting idea—but landing at lack of focus.

Emmanuel Villaume made his Met debut in a Puccini opera (a 2004 revival of the Giancarlo del Monaco Madama Butterfly with Kallen Esperian and Roberto Aronica), but has proved more valuable in recent seasons as a specialist in French repertoire.

Although the HD performance is a considerable improvement on the disheveled opening-night live stream, and the orchestra plays the familiar score as well as one would expect a first-rate orchestra to do, it cannot be said that the reading is special in matters of momentum, integration and finish.

In interview with hostess Leonard, Yoncheva is thoughtful, absorbed in requirements of the role of the day. Grigolo is manic and discursive on the subject of his past and present career (he once sang the shepherd boy with Luciano Pavarotti‘s Cavaradossi). Lucic is stiff, difficult to pry anything out of, and what he does venture is not illuminating.

In other words, the interviews line up well with the performances. Designer Macfarlane appears in a taped segment and says things that will please and reassure theatrical conservatives in the Met’s audience base.

The year does not begin with one of the series’ great broadcasts (among those I would include the 2o17 Rosenkavalier, the 2016 Elektra, the 2013 Parsifal and Falstaff, the 2007 Eugene Onegin), but I would go more often if this Tosca represented the lowest level. I took my aunt, who had attended and disliked one live opera about 40 years ago, and had not been aware of the Met HD series.

She loved everything about the Tosca, especially Ms. Yoncheva’s performance, and commented that being able to see the singers’ expressions and to read the subtitles made the experience more engrossing for her. She also enjoyed intermission clips of Matthew Polenzani, Pretty Yende, Ildebrando d’Arcangelo and Angela Meade in upcoming operas.

I had expected exactly this reaction, and thus believe I made appropriate use of a good introductory-level production of a good introductory-level opera.

Ms. Yoncheva and Messrs. Grigolo, Lucic and Villaume have completed their allotment of Toscas for the season. Spring performances of the McVicar/Macfarlane production, with a new cast and conductor, begin at the Met on April 21.

Saturday’s HD will repeat in participating theaters at 1:00 and 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 31. Consult your local listings, and if you go, take someone new along with you.

Photo: Ken Howard

  • Sanraphael

    Unable to attend the HD, I listened to the broadcast, and while I felt there were many splendid moments did not end the evening (in London) feeling wrung out from being constantly thrilled, as – being a great admirer of both Yoncheva and Grigolo- I had hoped. But the in-house response at the final curtain sounded to be bordering on the tumultuous. There were, among the Comments here, references to the current run of Tosca at the ROH, and applause. I have attended three ROH performances: at the prima there were hands for Pieczonka’s Vissi d’arte and Calleja’s E lucevan le stelle; next time, Mo Ettinger powered on through, precluding any applause, and on Wednesday last there was an attempted round for Gheorghiu’s first exit from Act One, which fizzled, then a prolonged ovation for Vissi. Whether for the entrance of a star, or a specific, special moment, applause seems to me a healthy and productive reflection of the audience’s role in the unfolding of a unique experience. Forty years ago, one of my first opera-going experiences was of a Rigoletto in which Pari siamo, Caro nome, Donna e mobile &c drew applause and I, with the snootiness of an insecure neophyte, felt the philistines were just clapping for the famous bits, not necessarily the good ones. Now I take that back and am happy to join in, (as well as having been put right about the historical Philistines). And Dame Joan Sutherland, as a for instance, appreciated these outbursts, especially in undertakings such as Lucia’s Mad Scene – they gave her a breather. I recall the psychology of all this being trenchantly addressed in Meryle Secrest’s biography of Stephen Sondheim, when SS discusses O. Hammerstein’s notes after a preview of Gypsy, and the importance of allowing the audience expression. (Don’t have the book to hand to quote it for you).

    Tangentially, Marco Vratogna was mentioned here lately, dismissed as ‘vergogna’ – but when I saw his Iago at Covent Garden last summer, he was given a great reception. Deservedly, as he sizzled from his first (unexpected) appearance, and his connection with Kaufmann’s Moor was electric. Whatever the assets or limitations of Vratogna’s voice, it unequivocally belonged to Iago. That was on a Thursday; on Saturday I heard Kunde as Otello, quite different, of course, and quite glorious despite an electricity-free dynamic with Zeljko Lucic’s Iago, of whom I can say only that he was there and he knew his dots. Assuming Vratogna is consistent in the commitment he demonstrated, I am looking forward to his upcoming Scarpias at the ROH and no vergogna about it, perhaps because I receive performances as an opera-lover, appreciative of each individual occasion, and not as a pedagogue of vocal technique. Reading the comments on broadcasts, it seems that certain Parterrians could spare themselves much disappointment if they only tried to take on the performance that is happening, warts-and-all, rather than viewing it as a distasteful deviation from some flawless/fantasy edition of the piece that they hold in mind. For example: ‘No diminuendo’ – no not tonight, unclutch those pearls, it sometimes happens.

    Another topic, but while I’m here, the last word on Bartoli/Levine/Miller and the Figaro ‘replacement’ arias is possibly Prof. Roger Parker’s essay Ersatz Ditties: Adriana Ferrarese’s Susanna in the collection Remaking the Song, in which he irrefutably administers to Jonathan Miller as sound a drubbing as he deserved.

  • H_Badger

    Fantastic review! Thanks!

  • PATRICK MACK

    I saw this lead story this morning and thought, “Oh good. Breakfast!”

  • Great review as always, Porgy. I especially appreciated your detail descriptions of Yoncheva’s interpretation. Without having seen or heard a bit of it, I feel like I have a good measure of her approach. And I couldn’t agree more with the following:

    Some reviewers have noted that nothing in the production is “revelatory.” I am not sure that that would be possible with this work in 2017-18, for those of us who have seen our share of Toscas. I no longer expect Tosca to give up secrets. I feel I am seeing a great Tosca when it grips me, and even though I know everything that is going to happen next, the singing actors almost fool me that they do not.

  • ER

    Superb review, Porgy. I’m envious of the great language and communication skills of a number of the Parterre reviewers.

    Not sure why Lucic is such a go-to baritone these days. The voice is generally reliable, but there are so many other singers with more interesting sounds or with more interesting interpretations. Only a few days ago I heard Kelsey in Trovatore who I thought would make a wonderful Scarpia.

    Also, if Yoncheva and Grigolo were good but at the absolute extremes of what they could give, I’m wondering if they’d be better in smaller houses.

    • In Toronto, we currently have Roland Wood singing Rigoletto. Not a glamorous voice but one with plenty of warmth (much more so than they gray opaque-voiced Lucic) but also some “woolliness”. But the voice is remarkably even in tone and volume from top to bottom and he’s an excellent actor. Lucic and Bari-Domingo need not be the Met’s only go-to options for big baritone roles.

      • Juicy Bjoerling

        i’d take gagnidze any day over lucic. my freaking goodness, bring back lado ataneli!!!!!!!

        • Juan Pons: All is forgiven! LOL

  • CCorwinNYC

    According to Indiewire, the Tosca HD grossed over $2 million at 900 theaters.

    • CwbyLA

      Do you have information on other HD presentations? I looked at Indiewire but couldn’t find anything. I am also curious how the international broadcasts make money for the Met.

      • David Yllanes

        Since the Met is classed as a non-profit, you can read their actual tax returns online: https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/131624087/201611659349300646/IRS990

        For the 2015 fiscal year their income is:

        PERFORMANCES 94,976,277
        bMEDIA BROADCASTS 31,778,423
        cOTHER PRESENTATIONS 8,095,640
        dYADP/NATL CNCL CRT/OTHER 558,176

        • CwbyLA

          Thank you David. This is indeed interesting. I was curious about the gross income for individual broadcasts. For example, how much difference there is between a war horse like Tosca and a contemporary or rare opera?

  • Niel Rishoi

    Excellent review, as always, Porgy!

    • Porgy Amor

      Thanks. This was one of those tough ones, because “Eh, it was an okay way to spend a couple hours” is hard to make interesting. But everything can’t be great or terrible. Reviewers worldwide would celebrate if that were true, but…

  • Dan Patterson

    WOnderful review, as always, Porgy! I listened to the broadcast and hope to see the encore showing this week. As for Tosca having no revelations left after countless productions, I would have thought the same thing, but a friend of mine sent me a link to the Calixto Bieito production for the Norwegian National Opera last year. If you have not seen this, you simply must. Love it or hate it, you will not be bored. Somehow I missed this when Parterre published it last June, but I’m glad to have caught it even this late. Two of the performances struck me as world class. The good looking tenor singing Cavadossi has a strong, almost heroic voice. The Scarpia is the most terrifying portrayal I’ve ever seen, and gorgeously sung; he may haunt your dreams. The Tosca is strong, though occasionally her pitch slipped a bit; understandable, given the demands Bieito places upon her.

    I can’t say I always understood what Bieito was trying to convey, and some of it made no sense in relation to Puccini’s story, but it was compelling to watch. I wound up watching it twice in two days. The first viewing provoked a mixed reaction, but I was so upset and conflicted that a second viewing became mandatory. Love it or hate it, you’ve never seen anything like it.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=638-mrR0z-A

    • Porgy Amor

      Thanks, Dan. I hope you enjoy the encore presentation, and will follow up here if you do go.

      I did see the DNO one at the time of its webcast last year. I have to admit, I didn’t think it was top-flight Bieito (vis-à-vis his Boris Godunov), but maybe I will give it a second look. I do like that soprano, Svetlana Aksenova, but more on the basis what I’ve heard her sing of Russian repertoire (Herheim’s Pikovaya Dama, Tcherniakov’s Invisible City of Kitezh…she’s collecting all the Regietheater kingpins!). She’s married to a tenor, Maxim Aksenov.

      • ER

        thanks for posting. I agree, it’s certainly interesting.
        The soprano may not have a mega-glamorous voice but she has something very natural about her, both vocally and in stage presence, that I like.

    • MissShelved

      Just watched. Really quite affecting. Though I could have done without the 2 dwarves and all the sticky tape. Now that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.

      • Dan Patterson

        I think of myself as one of those hidebound old folks whom LaCieca censures for preferring old Zeffirelli productions, but I have, on occasion, been thoroughly impressed by a “Eurotrash” or “regietheater” production. Since I can’t stop thinking about this Bieito production, I’d have to call it a success. I can’t remember another Tosca production affecting me so deeply. I hope to see the encore showing of the Met telecast tomorrow, and I wonder how it will compare.

        • MissShelved

          Sadly, the ugliness (and timeliness) of the political and sexual violence made the NNO staging production horribly compelling. No lovely deaths or noble suffering. Just power, and those who know how to abuse it. I don’t think the MO rebroadcast will supplant those images in your head. Nor can I honestly say that the singing will be any vast improvement.

        • MissShelved

          Now I can’t stop thinking about it. Over-the-top productions like this, over time, do change what we accept and demand in opera acting. This Mario, in skivvies and duck tape, battered and blood covered, is a long way from the typical artsy scruff and tasteful drips of blood. But his E lucevan estella is less about wanting to live and more like reminding himself he still has a reason to. Not pretty. But gutsy.

  • Ivy Lin

    Porgy excellent review. With this production some little details bothered me. For instance why was Cavaradossi wearing a white shirt and dinner vest while painting? Why was there sunlight coming into Scarpia’s windows when Tosca specifically arrives after an evening performance?

    • Porgy Amor

      They may have shaded down that light through the windows in Act Two by the time of the HD. It still looked too bright for the specified time, but it was closer to a dusky look.

      • Ivy Lin

        I have now seen the HD (usual sources). They do seem to have turned down the window lighting so it looks like a dusky evening look. Still don’t get why there’s a fireplace in Rome in June and why Mario is painting in a white shirt.
        As for Yoncheva I think she was mostly excellent but her voice is very different from how it was a few years ago. When I first heard her live her voice had this plush beauty. It’s now a lot louder, more metallic, steely.

    • Bill

      Porgy -- enjoyed your review. I attended the previous Tuesday performance of Tosca and listened to
      much of the Broadcast on a car radio -- the sets were evocative (no, the audience did not applaud them at least)
      and will be useful for future casts assuming this production stays in the repertory for 20 years or more. I was rather surprised that for the most part Tosca was without a head covering in the church in the first act. I thought the conducting could have had more verve and sharpness at times. Yoncheva was an effective Tosca vocally -- not a dream Tosca -- her Vissi d’arte was solid though not radiant.
      Basically she was just standing there rather tranquilly -- not on the floor (Rysanek, Nilsson), not on her knees, not in a chair
      (Oliveira), -- the last Toscas I have seen (Gheorghiu, Nagelstad, Mattila, and prior to that Zampieri) somehow moved me more in different ways.. But Yoncheva is a solid singer and is (currently) an asset to any opera house that
      books her. Luisa Miller may indeed be a better role for her.
      Grigolo has much to offer except a very attractive voice when he pushes it (much of the time) as it becomes extremely bleaty and there is some unattractive spread. I liked him
      better as Romeo or Werther. It always takes me about
      5 minutes to get used to his timbre -- he has a good technique, can swell the voice or control it to sing softly
      (where he is at his best). He over emotes but then at least
      he does emote more than many tenors. During the curtain calls he is rather ridiculous in milking the applause to embarrassing childish effect. Lucic was better as Scarpia than I expected based upon the reviews of his performance on this blog -- traditional. It probably would have been
      more fascinating to have seen Gheorghiu with the younger and more virile Erwin Schrott as Scarpia this same month in Vienna. I came away from the Met feeling that I had witnessed a solid traditional performance but not one of
      rare intuitiveness. The audience reaction was neither wildly enthusiastic nor tepid. But, there WAS an audience. Though not sold out the Tuesday performance was full, most seats
      taken in the parterre, very few leaving the performance midstream despite the very long drawn out intermissions AND actually a standing room which was at least half sold out -- a rarity these days when sometimes there are only 4-8 people in the standing room area most of whom instantly vanishing and moving to the copious number of empty seats available. I shall return to hear Netrebko when she assumes the title role later on this season.

  • SanRaphael

    Though not able to attend the HD, I listened to the broadcast, and while I felt there were many splendid moments did not end the evening (in London) feeling wrung out from being constantly thrilled, as – being a great admirer of both Yoncheva and Grigolo- I had hoped. But the in-house response at the final curtain sounded to be bordering on the tumultuous. There were, among the Comments here, references to the current run of Tosca at the ROH, and applause. I have attended three ROH performances: at the prima there were hands for Pieczonka’s Vissi d’arte and Calleja’s E lucevan le stelle; next time, Mo Ettinger powered on through, precluding any applause, and on Wednesday last there was an attempted round for Gheorghiu’s first exit from Act One, which fizzled, then a prolonged ovation for Vissi. Whether for the entrance of a star, or a specific, special moment, applause seems to me a healthy and productive reflection of the audience’s role in the unfolding of a unique experience. Forty years ago, one of my first opera-going experiences was of a Rigoletto in which Pari siamo, Caro nome, Donna e mobile &c drew applause and I, with the snootiness of an insecure neophyte, felt the philistines were just clapping for the famous bits, not necessarily the good ones. Now I take that back and am happy to join in, (as well as having been put right about the historical Philistines). And Dame Joan Sutherland, as a for instance, appreciated these outbursts, especially in undertakings such as Lucia’s Mad Scene – they gave her a breather. I recall the psychology of all this being trenchantly addressed in Meryle Secrest’s biography of Stephen Sondheim, when SS discusses O. Hammerstein’s notes after a preview of Gypsy, and the importance of allowing the audience expression. (Don’t have the book to hand to quote it for you).
    Tangentially: Marco Vratogna was mentioned here lately, dismissed as ‘vergogna’ – but when I saw his Iago at Covent Garden last summer, he was given a great reception. Deservedly, as he sizzled from his first (unexpected) appearance, and his connection with Kaufmann’s Moor was electric. Whatever the assets or limitations of Vratogna’s voice, it unequivocally belonged to Iago. That was on a Thursday; on Saturday I heard Kunde as Otello, quite different, of course, and quite glorious despite an electricity-free dynamic with Zeljko Lucic’s Iago, of whom I can say only that he was there and he knew his dots. Assuming Vratogna is consistent in the commitment he demonstrated, I am looking forward to his upcoming Scarpias at the ROH and no vergogna about it, perhaps because I receive performances as an opera-lover, appreciative of each individual occasion, and not as a pedagogue of vocal technique. Reading the comments on broadcasts, it seems that certain Parterrians could spare themselves much disappointment if they only tried to take on the performance that is happening, warts-and-all, rather than viewing it as a distasteful deviation from some flawless/fantasy edition of the piece that they hold in mind. For example: ‘No diminuendo’ – no not tonight, unclutch those pearls, it sometimes happens.
    Another topic, but while I’m here, the last word on Bartoli/Levine/Miller and the Figaro ‘replacement’ arias is possibly Prof. Roger Parker’s essay Ersatz Ditties: Adriana Ferrarese’s Susanna in the collection Remaking the Song, in which he irrefutably administers to Jonathan Miller as sound a drubbing as he deserved.

    • Armerjacquino

      I’d be *furious* if someone put ‘Al desio’ into Act 4 of my production of NOZZE too, beautiful though it is.

      • PCally

        I personally agree but the controversy stemmed from the fact that Miller straight up lied in print about the whole thing. By most accounts Bartoli had gotten permission from the met, levine, and her fellow cast members, and Miller had been told in advance about the substitution. He also said Bartoli showed up late for rehearsals when according to some behind the scenes he was actually the one who showed up late.

        • Armerjacquino

          Oh, I know. Not going in to bat for Miller. Just not keen on the idea of Act 4 grinding to a seven-minute halt for some coloratura to a very generalised libretto while poor old Figaro is stuck having to use up every reaction in the book…

          (While I’m here, ‘Venite inginocchiatevi’ is one of the few operatic arias that actively advances the plot, so it’s a shame to replace it with (also very beautiful) ‘Hurray, I’m feeling happy today!’)

          • PCally

            I can more or less deal with Al Desio because I think on its on terms it’s pretty great music (Deh Vieni is one of my favorite arias ever and absolutely perfect where it is structurally). Un Moto not only does nothing and makes no real sense in context IMO, I actually think it’s kind of lame kind of lame music, like Mozart just sort of cranked it out in one sitting.

            • Dan Patterson

              I agree. I remember when this was telecast, I was happy about the substitutions, for a chance to see “something different” (which Bartoli is fond of bringing us). I was glad to hear both of them, but wouldn’t want a permanent substitution. I felt sorry for Terfel having to more or less lick the wall during “Al desio.” Both of these scenes can be found of YouTube if anyone is interested.

      • SanRaphael

        Though the musicological strand of the essay is well worth exploring with its disquisition on the reification of texts, I was thinking more of Parker’s reaction to Miller’s version of his interaction with J.Volpe causing him to compare himself to France being invaded by the Nazis, and Miller’s telling us ‘With his genius Mozart wrote the right music for ‘Figaro’ and then, under pressure from a diva, wrote alternative arias’. Believe ‘Remaking the Song’ can be found on Googlebooks.

  • David Prosser

    Great review.

    A minor quibble. Scottish McVicar and Australian Moshinsky are described as ‘Anglos’. I’m not sure I understand what ‘Anglos’ means in this context -- people who have worked a lot in England?

  • Rowna Sutin

    I know I am late to the game, but here are my random thoughts about this Tosca. I had heard the first night live stream, and was in the house for the Saturday matinee. Short version, overall I loved it. https://youtu.be/xynWB56xj1Y

    • Rowna you are priceless.

      • Rowna Sutin

        Thank you!

    • I love this Rowna. Thank you for sharing!

      • Rowna Sutin

        Thanks for listening, Mary!

  • Antikitschychick

    Another thoughtful and insightful review. Gracias Porgy. I’m going to watch the HD perf soon since I missed the broadcast this past Saturday and am also going to watch the DVD of Lohengrin from Dresden with Netrebko and Bezcala which I’ve been meaning to watch for a while.

    The next thing I’m going to purchase is a Ring Cycle but I haven’t made up my mind as to which one to buy yet. If anyone wants to make the case that I should get this or that one for x/y reasons I’m all ears ????. Suggestions via email are also welcome.

    • Porgy Amor

      Kupfer/Barenboim, no hesitation. Wears its 25+ years very lightly (looks and sounds wonderful on the latest reissue), and a classic production, brainy and involving. No one singer is perhaps up there with the greatest of all time (I guess Graham Clark as Loge/Mime, and Meier as Waltraute, would be the easiest cases to make), but there also aren’t major liabilities. It’s a consistently very good cast.

      I like Chéreau/Boulez almost as much, but Manfred Jung’s Siegfried is a trial in the last two parts. That and the more dated technical credits knock it to second place. I’d give a wide berth to both of the Met ones. If you want something recent with visual razzle-dazzle, La Fura dels Baus from Valencia makes Lepage at the Met look like a clod.

      If you were asking about an audio-only set, that’s another matter. I assumed you meant DVD/Blu-ray because it followed the mention of the Lohengrin and the Tosca HD.

      • Antikitschychick

        Yes I did mean DVD/Blu-ray sets so I can watch with subtitles and a score. Thanks for the recommendations! I know you’ve recommended the Kupfer/Barenboim before. I’m not sure if it’s on Amazon but I’ll look. The La Fura dels Baus version from Valencia sounds intriguing too. I’ll have to look for it and check out a trailer.

        • PCally

          I completely a agree with porgy completely, there are many interesting DVDs but IMO by a wide margin are the Barenboim and (dramatically) the Chereau, which no one should listen to for really great singing.

          As a third choice I actually think the Copenhagen DVD is an all around great choice, interesting production and very high musical standards I think, though no one sounds glamorous per se.

    • Luvtennis

      Splurge! Get the Barenboim with Anne Evans and Jerusalem and the Fura dels Baus. ????

    • I have the full Valencia Fura dels Baus set if you’d like it for free. After all, DVDs, once you’ve binged on them, just sit there doing nothing and taking up space, don’t they?

      • Antikitschychick

        Thank you! That’s very generous of you and yes I’d love to take you up on that. I can email you if you wish so we can make arrangements. Is your email address on your blog? You can also reach me at jgdm337 at yahoo dot com ????.

  • jj

    Well another reviewer, Marlies Wolf, thought opposite of you on Zeljko Lucic, she writes:

    But there were moments when I felt this Tosca should have been named “Scarpia.” The great Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic seemed to steal the show. Here is a Scarpia truly to be feared. His entrance in act 1 sent shivers up one’s spine. His superb acting throughout was helped by a sly smile when pulling off some of his most cruel offenses. The creepy lust for Tosca truly painted a vivid picture of the period’s #MeToo existence. (I was also struck that Puccini obviously saw him as another Iago, even giving him a decided “Credo” aria). The Met has seen many excellent Scarpias. Lucic who has gifted us with superlative performances as Rigoletto and the Count de Luna, surely ranks with the best of them.