Four of the cher public caught yesterday’s HD presentation of Tosca and have agreed to share their impressions with La Cieca and the rest:
“The death of Puccini’s Tosca was much exaggerated, in fact it did not take place.”
“After about 34 years of going to the opera, I don’t think I’ve ever left a performance more infuriated than I did after the performance today.”
“‘Vulgar’ ‘Totally out of place’ and ‘It had nothing whatever to do with the opera!’ were phrases which constituted a regular refrain.”
“I will say this, Mr. Gagnidze looked like one sexy bear in that opera.”
Complete reviews after the jump.
After hearing three radio broadcasts of the Luc Bondy Tosca from the Met, feeling very uncomfortable about Maestro Conaneri’s slow tempi, Mattila’s painfully hard work singing Tosca and a kind of lackluster impression made by Scarpia – and after reading all the negative reviews in the press and all over the web, I was quite prepared to have an unenjoyable experience at the Met’s HD moviecast of Tosca, as witnessed at the Lensic Performing Arts center in Santa Fe. I was wrong!
My commentary: the death of Puccini’s Tosca was much exaggerated, in fact it did not take place. The audience loved it, had a wonderful time and eight hundred people left the theatre having enjoyed themselves – substantially. To add the visual to the aural in this Tosca made all the difference. Suddenly, the slow tempi were ameliorated by action, and in every way imaginable the visual message supplemented what the ear may have found insufficient. Mattila still worked very hard, but her Grand-Guignol acting, stagey, old-fashioned and very energetic made her role effective — it worked in context, and was enjoyable. Her singing was still quirky, often short on top and there were occasional pitch problems, but over-all she was acceptable, and more.
I would say the Georgian baritone Scarpia looked and played his part well, and to my ear sounded well enough; for both these lead roles, seeing was believing, if always in the Grand Guignol spirit – caricature. Tenor Alvarez was superior, more to the ear than eye, but when the tenor sounds that good, who can complain? I have always taken Tosca as a kind of ‘comic strip opera;’ I mean, all is caricature and simplified over-statement. And so these characters seemed — Scarpia’s bugging eyes and all. What a lout, how evil! Of course!
The production? I was not offended. I may have felt a little short-changed here and there — but no complaints at all about Act I. Act II – the eccentric ending was not a ‘disaster’ or a ‘train-wreck,’ not at all. Yes, I missed the lack of responsiveness to what Puccini was telling us in the music here and there (seeing the knife on Scarpia’s dinner table the ‘placing the candle’ music), I thought the lines “Quanto? Il prezzo?” Were thrown away – to have Scarpia moving on Tosca’s lines as he did to touch her hair — ruined the moment, an important Tosca moment. But….. not really all that important.
Tosca looking out the window? – I didn’t mind, and It telegraphed what was to come. I did not find Bondy’s work anti-vocal or anti-Puccini, at least not in any important way. Act III? The only thing that did not work, the main mistake of the production was Tosca’s jump — it was a bad idea poorly executed. Sorry. To have Tosca and the audience break the line of sight, even for an instant, was to lose credibility and effect. Dramatic effect ended when she disappeared from view into the tower, and when the dummy appeared a split second later — we all knew it was a contrivance and not a successful one. It was the only really quite inept moment of the afternoon.
By the way, google will tell you that Grand-Guignol was a theatre in Paris that specialized in the horrible and grotesque – and the name Guignol literally means “the big puppet!” Bondy’s little joke? There were occasionally mild infelicities in stage direction – but minor.
And Colaneri is merely a routiner in the pit – nothing special in any way, and I still wish he’d tighten up those tempi, The three play-girls at Scarpia’s supper — well, I am indifferent — a bit of prurience maybe was achieved, but I was left with a slight feeling Bondy was just filling some time. One girl exposing her breast to the audience; ho hum. Seen it all before. Take it out, Luc, you dirty old man! :) It’s just trite, unnecessary.
Earlier in the week, I had taken a dozen green tomatoes to a friend who invited us for dinner. ‘What are these for,’ he asked. ‘To slice, bread and fry,’ I told him; ‘haven’t you ever heard of Fried Green Tomatoes?’ A few days later he emailed – ‘thanks for the green tomatoes, they were pretty good, not nearly as bad as expected.’ Tosca is my green tomato opera just now! – MrMyster
I actually enjoyed the Tosca performance, but the ending left me absolutely furious. In fact, after about 34 years of going to the opera, I don’t think I’ve ever left a performance more infuriated than I did after the performance today.
The ending was an absolute joke. The taunting “come and get me” by Tosca, the slow motion, and the final “dummy” jump were nothing short of ridiculous. Bondy really should be tossed into the Tiber, and I would be more than happy to help throw him in. The bottom line is he brought nothing new or interesting to Tosca. His direction destroyed the momentum/drama/tension/excitement in both Act II and Act III. He completely ignored what was happening with the music, and offered an uninspired and tacky production.
I found the sets to be drab and dark. Act II was especially puzzling. What century were we supposed to be in?
Puccini and the singing saved the day. I though Alvarez was an outstanding Cavaradossi. His voice rang out, he was musical, I really enjoyed his singing… which say’s a lot coming from another Tenor!! He definitely took vocal honors today.
I also liked Gagnidze (even though at times he reminded me on John Belushi as the Samurai in the Saturday Night Live skits). He was menacing and sang well. I prefer a darker timbre to the voice, but think he was a good Scarpia.
Mattila was definitely challenged as Tosca. For me, her voice lacks the warmth and color required for a great Tosca. I thought she tried very hard, struggled vocally most of the afternoon, but in the end pulled it off as best she could. I really think she needs to retire Puccini from her repertoire.
In spite of Bondy’s production, Puccini’s music and the singing made it an enjoyable afternoon. -BF
I attended yesterday’s screening of Tosca at the Regal CInema in Portland, Oregon. I attend each and every one of the Met HD transmissions on behalf of of Portland Opera. I Have a table there, press the flesh and talk to the audience before the show about what they are going to see. I say this by way of introduction because what flows from my regular attendance there is that I see the same folks each and every time; by now we kinda know each other and are on a chatty basis. This made it very easy for me to talk to them before the show and to ask them to come speak with me during the intermissions about what they were seeing. These few lines will concentrate on what they thought of this show rather than what I thought.
I do not imagine the demographic is very different here from any other movie theater showing these transmissions: definitely an older crowd. Average age – mid sixties I would guess. The theater was solid full. I believe it seats around 500 people.
Before the show I asked many of the patrons whether they were aware that there had been a good deal of press about this production after its opening night last week. Very few of them knew about the booing at the Met or any of the stuff that has dominated our chat this last ten days or so. I think these people must have some kind of life outside opera. Strange, but true.
The first 30 minutes of the show were plagued with sound and other transmission difficulties, including a 15 minute blackout due, we were told, to sun spots. I expect you all had this same experience. The audience here was somewhat mollified when the theater manager distributed free movie passes to anybody who wanted one. It was clear from what people told me at intermission that these technical difficulties were not their chief grumble.
They disliked – no, hated! – the painting. “Vulgar” “Totally out of place” and “It had nothing whatever to do with the opera!” were phrases which constituted a regular refrain. These were not the whinings of old fogeys who are upset by nudity (though I am sure there was some of that, as we saw later) but rational complaints by people who know this opera very well. They thought the painting too modern in style and wholly out of place in a church.
Also, as someone commented “Tosca spends half of Act 1 complaining that Cavaradossi has painted Attavanti – with blue eyes, rather than Tosca-shades of brown. If she had been seeing the same painting I was looking at I think she might also have mentioned that he painted her with her tits hanging out and just where did he see those?” Other complaints centered on the rest of the Act 1 set – a Catholic church without candles, crucifixes, stations of the cross, icons etc. etc.
Act 2 opened as we know with Scarpia being serviced by three hookers. When the camera cut to the one who was imitating the painting from Act 1 there were loud, audible gasps from the throng. The rest of the act passed without incident. During the second intermission about a dozen people responded to my request to come and talk to me. Without exception they said they thought Scarpia was the best they had ever seen, thought the whores fitted in perfectly with his expressed view that sex is better when forced (for them, ‘bought’ = ‘forced’ I think. Taking a woman you have paid for sex is a power trip as opposed to an act of affection .)
They also had no trouble in understanding Tosca’s actions after the murder – including going onto the window ledge – though they didn’t like the fanning business much. Too studied, one of them remarked to me. Not a single one complained about the absence of the usual stage business involving candles and a crucifix. They all thought the build up of tension throughout Act 2 was done very well and one of them described Scarpia’s murder as a “great catharsis”. One person did remark “This is an ugly Tosca.” Someone else standing close by retorted “It’s an ugly story!”
Act 3 was well received and the final jump was a huge hit!
There was much more talk of the production than the singing and acting but they seemed to like all the principal characters.
Not a boo to be heard in Portland, that’s for sure. – SL
I have waited several of hours to write my review out of necessity but also so I could let my impression of Bondy’s Tosca settle in.
For the most part I thought the set was effective. It was as gargantuan as Zeffirelli’s, but that is a necessity born out of the size of the space rather than the designer. Zeffirelli filled the space with almost obsessive-compulsive attention to detail. Bondy went in the other direction, and given the amount of detail that went into the action, I see it as a virtue rather than the opposite. Overall I thought the space at the Met was well used. I did have a problem with the cheap looking IKEA-inspired (and probably bought) furniture. I am not a fan of seeing contemporary furniture in a period piece. In my opinion, it detracts from the overall impression, but I have a feeling I am in the minority on this point.
When I see stagings that are obviously period and I see contemporary furniture I do not think edgy, fascinating, not even provocative. My first reaction is to think they ran out of money and asked the board of directors for pieces they could use on the décor, or maybe that they spent as little as possible on them so they could splurge on the artists; I even think that the director did a poor job on his research and obviously cannot tell the difference.
Of all the visual aspects of the production, I think the costuming is definitely the stronger point. While the costumes are not ultra faithful to the period (in as much as only fabrics, textures and patterns that existed or were used at the time), they were evocative enough to make them believable. The one thing that I found uninspiring about them was the now cliché appearance of a leather trench coat. It seems that these days we cannot do a period piece without someone walking in a leather (or pleather) trench coat. Fortunately, it showed up in Scarpia’s wardrobe, the one character that would be expected to wear something like that. If this had been someone else who wanted to be “provocative”, Scarpia would have showed up wearing chiffon and Tosca the pleather jacket. Thank God it was not the case.
Mattila’s dresses were exquisite in the simplicity and beauty of the design. Let’s be fair, she is one hot cougar and those dresses made her look amazing. Scarpia looked menacing, even Spoletta could make it to the list of 20 best dressed in Rome. The Cardinal robes, while not accurate were evocative and sumptuous; even the nuns’ costumes were exquisite. My only question is, why can’t Tosca show up in a royal blue, green or orange costume? Seems like every Tosca these days shows up in a red or black costume; why not take a chance, since the costumes were not strictly period but period-inspired?
I thought the singing today was rather good if not inspiring. Mattila attacked the role more than she sang it. Compared to the broadcast, I thought she was vocally stronger and the role is setting in what the voice is at the moment. She is an intelligent artist and she gave it her all. The high C’s were all there for the most part and she was able to vocalize them, not without effort and strain. “Vissi d’arte” was not a show stopper, we could see that she tried to integrate it to the story (a feat that even Puccini doubted could be done), but it failed to make a strong vocal impression. I think the problem is that she wanted to “act” the aria instead of singing it. By adding the moan after the Bb she was obviously trying to take the aria beyond the realm of vocalism, she should be commended for that; but I do not believe it was necessary. I believe that Puccini crafted the aria in such a way that no external additions need to be added for it to make an impact.
Let’s be honest, one of the reasons why he doubted the aria could be brought into the action was because it is an incredibly beautiful moment in the middle of chaos. I think that sopranos are more than capable of supporting the moment by purely vocal means, if they trust what Puccini wrote and BRING the people into the drama rather than the drama to the people. I believe Mattila fell into the trap of wanting to bring the drama out to the audience and she was only partially successful.
Marcello Alvarez, bless his soul, tried hard to convince the world he is a Puccini tenor (a point that Susan Graham also tried to make while interviewing him on the 2nd intermission). The problem is that to sing Mario successfully, you have to have a strong upper register (which he has) AND a strong middle/bottom registers (which he does not). So what we were left with was a series of gloriously produced high notes with awkwardly produced crooning in the passagio (and some truly inspired piano singing at moments, which is, I guess, what he was going for). Mixed that with the weak middle and weak bottom and we have a series of unrealized promises. Both arias proved to be rather underwhelming moments in the action for very different reasons.
While I can understand “Recondita armonia” to be a bit shaky because it is the first thing Mario sings, the aria sits high enough for a tenor with Mr. Alvarez’s strength in the upper register to make something of it. Instead it was routinely vocalized, poorly phrased and the high note punched like a baseball (a homerun, mind you). “E lucevan le stelle,” which again sits high, comes at a time when you are getting tired. This time, Mr. Alvarez went for crooning instead of true piano. Once again, his phrasing was not elegant or inspired (if you want to hear how those phrases should go, listen to the strings in the accompaniment, they are doubling the tenor) and his high note was something more akin to a home run than a man who is remembering the last time he made love to the love of his life.
The one area where I thought Mr. Alvarez was very successful was in the little moments that many tenors brush over because they are not high impact like the arias or the Vittoria’s. The way he colored the voice when Tosca told him she was coming over tonight was masterful; the same should be said for the way he made fun of her trying to teach him how to die. Mr. Alvarez is obviously an intelligent artist, and I am sure in the right house he would be a fantastic Cavaradossi; I am not sure the Met is the right house for him to essay this role. It showcased his weaknesses more than his strengths.
George Gagnidze’s Scarpia was saved by the bell. He is obviously not fully recovered from whatever forced him to stop singing half way through a performance a week or two ago. It was clear that he was running out of vocal resources towards the end of act 2; but since he was about to die, he soldiered on and finished strong. Vocally, the role suits his singing and the color of the voice. I could hear some signs of strain, but given the fact that I knew he had been sick, I am not sure whether he was still fighting his sickness or those were signs of a voice singing a role one size too big for it. I will say this, Mr. Gagnidze looked like one sexy bear in that opera. His is not the classically beautiful 6-pack trotting Scarpia alla David Pittsinger (a wonderful Angelotti), not the who-is-Cavaradossi? sexy villain alla Milnes, nor the aged pervert alla MacNeil.
George Gagnidze’s Scarpia was his own and he imparted it with his own brand of sexy and damn it, it worked. I for one would have loved to turn the tables on that Scarpia and give him a taste of his own medicine; I bet that Scarpia would have just as good a time getting a spanking as giving it. (Did I just say that, in public???!!!)
As I said, Davis Pittsinger is as far as I am concerned luxury casting as Angelotti. His Angelotti was beautifully vocalized and acted. So was Paul Plishka’s sacristan. It was good to hear this artist in a role that he recorded decades ago, singing it rather well, and shorn of all the buffo affectations that seem to be afflicted on the role. Joel Sorensen’s Spoletta was also well sung and acted (and he looked positively delicious on that costume). The one complain that I have is his not taking appogiaturas in some places and not committing to the “Gessu!” when Scarpia scares him. For the most part I thought he did quite a good job.
I think all involved in the production should be given kudos for the acting, but then, why are we talking about this like it is the first time we see singers acting? Make no mistake; the acting was wonderful and committed. Mr. Alvarez was for the most part believable as a lover (and his costume was quite successful hiding the fact that he is, shall we say, also a bear; not that there’s anything wrong with that, right Mr. Gagnidze?). George Gagnidze’s Scarpia was truly menacing, scary at times, and you believed that he was the “bigoto satiro” Cavaradossi describes.
Mattila was also successful, for the most part in creating a character. Of all the singers on stage, I think she was the least successful in creating a three dimensional character. We could see all the hysteria in her Tosca, but what about her girlishness? Now, this didn’t stop her from talking about her acting; which leads perfectly into my next point: I don’t buy is this going on and on about the whole singing actress bit. These days, Karita Mattila is sounding more and more like Dessay. No, not in vocal terms, but in the whole “look at me, I’m acting!!!” thing that seems to be infecting just about any diva of a certain age.
I have news for Ms. Mattila: not new; not unheard of; not provocative; not even rare. Ms. Mattila (and Ms. Dessay), I have a little list for you to examine: Renata Scotto, Maria Callas, Beverly Sills, Astrid Varnay, Martha Mödl, Grace Bumbry, Eva Marton, Magda Olivero, Teresa Stratas, shall I continue? These artists were all wonderful actresses, some would be considered stage animals and they were all wonderful singers AT THE SAME TIME. We have all seen singers who can act well, it is not a rare occurrence so stop tooting your horn like you are the first ones and get to the business of singing AND acting. If you want to act, then ask your managers to get you auditions in Hollywood and Broadway. Every time you go on and on about how committed your acting is, we want to say “now, is your singing that committed too?”
And now onto the staging we go. From the day of the opening night broadcast I have been saying that I didn’t think the boos were completely deserved. Today I cemented my initial perception. Now, I know for a fact that some of the staging was toned down and changed, but I have no issue with that, since I understand that for a repertory house like the Met, these productions are works in progress even after the prima. Hell, Bayreuth insists on stage directors to come tweak their productions after the initial run of performances, why should the Met not tweak the production 3 weeks after it opened?
I also stated that Bondy was put in a miserable position of not pleasing anyone and that necessity dictated a cop-out. I am still going to hold my position on that one too. It was obvious to me, by the almost apologetic and scared tone the Met used when announcing they were replacing the Zefirelli production that there was going to be 2 factions on this Tosca and they are both best described by the same phrase: the “How dare you!’s”.
On one side we had the How-dare-you-replace-the-Zefirelli-production-that-is-so-beautiful-and-served-us-so-well-for-this-many-years-and-if-it’s-not-broke-don’t-fix-it faction. On the other side there was the How-dare-you-not-give-us-a-reggie-production-like-the-ones-in-Europe-‘cause-they-have-been-doing-this-for-decades-and-we-want-something-provocative faction. I think the Met tried to please both sides and in the game got a little lost.
On one side we have what is mostly a traditional production with some modernistic touches; on the other we have some staging decisions that were clearly made in the spirit of pushing the envelope. Overall, I don’t think they completely succeeded on both attempts and we were left with something of a mix in the middle. Provocative enough on some sides, traditional enough on the other. Not vanilla, but not kink either.
To be fair, I think the staging was quite well done. Bondy took opportunities in presenting the characters in ways that we have not seen them in past stagings, some were successful, some not and some were left unfinished. I loved the way Mario and Tosca related to each other. Too often we see couples loving each other from opposite sides of the stage; not here. The love duet was staged like what (I believe) it is: a slice of domestic life for the lovers. We see them kissing, touching, but also pushing each other’s buttons until one of them explodes; they have a spat and make up just to rehash the spat and make up for good and then (likely) some make-up sex latter.
I loved the way Mario ungloved Tosca’s hands as he was singing o dolci mani. I just wished he would have taken the time to kiss them and caress them while she sang her responses. This beautiful touch was for me left unfinished, but it was full of tenderness (specific tenderness) while it lasted; beautiful. I loved that Bondy found some light moments right before the ending; like the way Mario teases Tosca about how she dies on stage and Tosca doing a full demonstration. It made their love more believable and their deaths all the more tragic.
I also liked the realistic way Scarpia was murdered. I am not sure I would have chosen to show such violence (we have enough of that on TV these days) but I did not disagree with it either. It was true to life and it was powerful. I liked the way Tosca prepped herself to do him in. This Tosca was no fool and she was ready to stab that mother fucker the moment he came within striking distance.
On the other hand, why the hell would you have Tosca mess with the knife while she is singing “Vissi d’arte?” I do not believe that you must follow the musical cues Puccini wrote, but they are there for a reason. Tosca does not have to find the knife on the chord, how about picking it up? Having Tosca messing with the knife during the aria was too much too soon and it cheapened the aria.
I also did not miss the candles moment. I would have preferred to see Tosca saying a prayer over Scarpia’s dead body instead of contemplating suicide, but in the state of hysteria that Mattila’s Tosca was, I can see how she would. I though the final tableau of Tosca fanning herself was genius. I can see this Tosca trying to compose herself before she got out of the office so no suspicions could arise. After all, if she got out of the room too soon, it would have clued Scarpia’s henchmen that something was not adding up, given how much Scarpia likes torture and rape, he was bound to take his sweet old time with this one, and likely have seconds before letting her go. I thought this moment was brilliant; provocative; new (at least to me). Loved it…
On the other hand, I am not so convinced with the whores that accompany Scarpia at the beginning of act 2. Scarpia himself says he gets his kicks out of raping women (I believe that even some men have seen Scarpia’s raping tool). Why would he have 3 whores about 30 minutes before he was (as he planned) to rape the one woman he desired the most? Even further, why would he have 3 whores at all? As the saying goes, you can’t rape the willing; and in Scarpia’s case it fits like a glove (one more for the road). If Scarpia prefers raping, why would he have a willing partner? Yes, he could have a raping scene with the whores, but ultimately it would be acting and I believe he would lose interest after a while because it is not the real thing.
In this, I could see how Bondy was trying to push the envelope, but I think he chose the wrong moment to do it. Same as when Scarpia kissed the Madonna. Mario himself states that Scarpia has cultivated a pious affectation. That means that when it comes to Scarpia, we get inside behavior and outside behavior; and they do not mix. Why would Scarpia, who wants everyone to believe he is so pious, deface the statue of the Virgin? He knows that he might be the chief of police, but in Rome there is someone who can have his ass at any time he wants: the pope. Historically, no, as the pope was not in Rome at this point, but this does not diminish the power of the church; and Scarpia needs the church so he can continue raping with no consequences. I think that this is another point in which Bondy wanted to push the envelope, but failed to recognize that the character has more reasons to behave in the opposite way than he wants to portray.
I loved the whole soldiers bit and how they went about their morning routines and got prepared for their duties. I think this made the staging specific, it made it look real, life like; and I loved that. The jump, on the other hand, was a letdown. I could see that Bondy wanted his audience to have a quasi cinematographic moment. To experience it like we would had we been at a movie: slo-mo; I’m not sure it worked. First, slo-mo on the stage is hard to do; second the jump happened so fast if you blinked you missed. I think this is one of those moments that I wished Mattila had taken a page from Tebaldi’s book and jumped while letting a blood-curling scream. I think it would have been a lot more effective than what we got. It truly was a letdown.
Overall, I think we got a winner here, with some Good ideas, some unrealized and some bad ones too, but no staging is perfect. I think as the production matures it will find a spot in the hearts of those who see it and they will find it effective and beautiful. I know I did. — Lindoro Almaviva