Tosca, Metropolitan Opera live relay, New York, October 2009Posted on 11 October 2009
This was a new production by Luc Bondy, with Karita Mattila as Tosca, Marcelo Alvarez as Cavaradossi, and George Gagnidze as Scarpia. All three sang and acted their parts with complete conviction, which made for a moving experience. Karita Mattila was a very jealous and emotional Tosca, even destroying her lover’s painting in Act I. Marcelo Alvarez was in glorious voice as Cavaradossi, showing passion and restraint. And George Gagnidze, whom I’ve not seen before, was riveting as Scarpia — his eyeballs at times being completely surrounded by the whites of his eyes — looking and acting like a controlling demon. Paul Plishka as the Sacristan in Act I performed like a weak little man fearful of anyone stronger.
A small difference from the usual staging was in Act II when Tosca kills Scarpia — she had secreted a knife by her side while lying on the couch awaiting his attentions, and thrust it into his groin, so the murder was not merely a spur of the moment decision. Another small difference was right at the end when she flees up the steps to the battlements — instead of throwing herself off, away from the audience, she threw herself forward from the tower, and the lights immediately shut off. It is difficult to know how effective this would be in the theatre — it might look a bit contrived since there had to be a harness to hold her back as the lights went out. But overall — and it really is the overall effect that counts — I thought the production was eerily dramatic.
The boldly stark designs by Richard Peduzzi were effective, and I very much liked the costumes by Milena Canonero. In Act I, Scarpia looked like an outsized beetle in the church, but why not, and later in Act II he was accompanied by three pretty whores, showing that this beetle had at least a strong libido. He is not simply a sadistic chief of police, and his desire for Tosca is more than a desire for sex — he wants to conquer her. The lighting by Max Keller was dark in Act I and very dark in Act III, never lightening up towards dawn, as far as I could see. Of course it is difficult to judge from a cinema screen, and it may have been the fault of camera work on a zoom lens, but the procession in the church in Act I appeared unnatural and looked as if it was almost on top of Scarpia. Such quibbles aside, I find it surprising that the production team was booed on the first night.
The music was well paced by Joseph Colaneri, replacing James Levine who is injured but had already conducted the first night.
Yet again we have had a terrific night at the opera, thanks to the live broadcasts by The Met. This really is an excellent way to see more opera, and as the cinema we use, The Gate at Notting HIll, is not unlike an opera house, with elaborate plaster ceiling, chandeliers and comfortable seats, the Occasion is not far off Grand.
The stars were electrifying, and the finale to Act 1 when Scarpia sings over the chorus of his intended conquest of Tosca was a spine tingling moment.
The dramatic end of the opera was innovative and most effective. It must have been a dummy that was projected from the castle, and the chap with his finger on the light switch and curtain had to be accurate with his timing to have the blackout coincide perfectly with the leap and the music. It was the best leap we have seen, with Tosca apparently hurtling down on to the stage instead of leaping away from us over the back. A thrilling moment.