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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Opera Review: Tenor Saves Tosca From Flying Leap

 Sondra Radvanovsky as Tosca, Falk Struckmann as Scarpia in Act II of Tosca.
Photo by Ken Howard, © 2011 Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera audience at Monday night's first Tosca of the season got a welcome surprise before the curtain went up. Sondra Radvanovsky was scheduled to make her debut in the title role opposite Argentinean tenor Marcelo Àlvarez. But Mr. Àlvarez was benched with a cold, so Roberto Alagna (currently singing a run of Carmen at the Big House) was summoned to sing his first Cavaradossi at Lincoln Center.

Mr. Alagna's presence and onstage energy gave an unexpected lift to the proceedings. From his first "Recondiata armonia" to the final act, he was a compelling Cavaradossi, focusing on the character's human side and his relationship with La Tosca. He pushed his instrument for "Vittoria" and the heavy, declamatory singing following the torture scene in Act II. He did much better in the third act, singing an emotional, effective "E lucevan le stelle." Mr. Alagna took a smart, conservative approach to this famous aria, stretching out the long note on "Tanto la vita" to exciting effect.

Sondra Radvanovsky has the tools to make a great Tosca in the tradition of Carol Vaness. She walks the role with the proper diva attitude, sailing into Luc Bondy's ugly church set and captivating the audience with her opening trio of "Mario's". She established immediate chemistry with Mr. Alagna as they sang their love music, overcoming slow tempos and dim lighting. And she reacted with proper gelosia to the machinations of Scarpia (the effective, if harsh-voiced German bass Falk Struckmann.)

Ms. Radvanovsky was magnetic in the second act. Confronting the creepy Scarpia of Falk Struckmann (who plays Scarpia as a bad guy left out of Inglourious Basterds) Ms. Radnovovsky made the audience forget about the ugly IKEA furniture and linoleum floor that stood in for the Palazzo Farnese. Her "Vissi d'arte" was sung with emotion, plunging to the depths of despair at her situation.

The murder scene had all the necessary vocal venom, vicious knife-work and some fine physical acting from Mr. Struckmann as a convincing corpse. In the last bars, she tossed off "Scarpia, avanti al dio!" with fire and finesse before taking a flying (or in this production, a falling) leap from Mr. Bondy's giant brick tower.

Speaking of Mr. Bondy, the director returned to the Met to put his stamp back on this production after the disastrous debut last September. Certain bits that were objectionable in the first run of this Tosca were toned down. Scarpia touches the hem and strokes the cheek of the Virgin Mary instead of humping the statue outright. Tosca still thinks about jumping out the window at the end of Act II. And the flying leap from the tower was tweaked yet again, changed to a perfectly acceptable "falling" effect that made a realistic final stage picture before the quick black curtain. This is still a flawed Tosca. But it's getting better. Besides, with a strong cast like this, the focus is on the singers, not the director.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.