Harriett Johnson in the New York Post:
The Metropolitan Opera’s opening of its 74th season last night may have been heralded by a discreet audience, but the performance of “Tosca” on-stage was anything but. With Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting, the melodramatic thriller was supercharged with an urgency that sometimes was electrifying, but, at other times, came through with too much current.
Under normal circumstances, Mitropoulos can rarely be accused of letting things lag, and the current occasion found him imbued with opening-night excitement to the point where the first two acts were consistently loud, with tempos whipped up to a high wind when the spirit so moved him. They may actually, at certain points, have been more hurricane in mood than in speed, but there was no doubt that the explosive nature of Sardou’s shocker was not neglected by the dynamic maestro, conducting, as usual, without score.
In the title role of the Puccini opera, soprano Renata Tebaldi, a big girl with a big voice, was sympathetic to the dominating ideas of Mitropoulos. So was tenor Mario del Monaco, making his debut as a bearded (his own) Cavaradossi, Says Del Monaco, right or wrong – painters and revolutionaries traditionally wear beards. It suits the period, so why should he shave off his novelty
In any case, he belted out some high notes with rousing resonance, with all the free spirit we must admit, of an uninhibited revolutionary. He held them long enough so that we felt like shifting from one foot to another, even though we were comfortably, even luxuriously seated in our $40 orchestra seat.
Miss Tebaldi, more subtle than Del Monaco, sang with keener sense of color and variety of tone in the second act, climaxing her performance with a “Vissi d’ arte” which received a prolonged ovation, even giving some observers the idea that the aria might be repeated. As tribute to her high artistry, she never relinquished her characterization during the thunderous applause, and eventually the audience was forced to yield.
During the scene leading up to her driving a knife into Scarpia, she worked up a cumulative frenzy that was a worthy match to the Machiavellian police chief, the hypocrite who admitted with supreme understatement, “Tosca, you make me forget God.” George London’s singing was the most sensitive of the evening from a standpoint of phrasing and he acted with his familiar diabolical effectiveness.
There was a glow to Miss Tebaldi’s second act, accented as it was, by her beautiful new cream-colored, beaded costume, made in Vienna, and topped by a black bodice and train.
In her imperious splendor she was magnificent, even though her actual knifing of Scarpia was a bit tame. Her exit, at the end of the act after the murder, was arrestingly dramatic as she opened the door and a flood of light flaunted itself at her figure, in contrast to the dead Scarpia, lying on the floor, framed by his two candles. The Dino Yannopoulos production, staged by Nathaniel Merrill, generally was admirable.
Portraying the smaller role of the Sacristan, Fernando Corena was outstanding, singing with a rich, smooth legato and acting with delicious, but well-controlled, humor.
The Metropolitan management contributed to the decorum of the audience by making it practically impossible for anyone to crash the gate. Even a Met staff member, who has worked in the house for 16 years, had to produce her pass in order to get by the guard. Thus, there was less of a crush than at any previous openings. There appeared to be fewer working press, fewer press agents, fewer onlookers, though, inside the auditorium, the claque appeared no less militant.
Among the assortment of celebrities present were Leonard Bernstein, wearing an opera cape, as more men should; Russian conductor Kiril Kondrashin, pianist Van Cliburn and his mother; Ali Khan and Elsa Maxwell. The dressy crowd, as usual, ranged from the elegant to the bizarre, though there was nothing to equal a man with a jeweled crown on his head, a phenomenon that characterized a ballet opening a couple of years ago.
One lapse from sobriety were a few champagne drinkers who, looking, as one observer said, as if they had just walked off the stage of “The Boy Friend,” managed to descend from the bar into the lobby with glasses still full. They were quickly dispatched.