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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Tosca

Yes, it's the Met's Luc Bondy production...thankfully for the last time.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
With furniture like this, you might jump too.
Act II of Tosca in the Met's current Luc Bondy production.
Photo © 2015 The Metropolitan Opera.
Add together four sopranos, three tenors, two conductors and one of the most godforsaken opera productions in recent memory at the Metropolitan Opera, and whaddya get? Tosca! With a new production (by Sir David McVicar) scheduled to premiere on Dec. 31, 2017, this is the final, flying leap for the Luc Bondy version of Puccini's most blood-curdling opera. The title role will be split four ways, between sopranos Oksana Dyka, Angela Gheorghiu, Maria Guleghina and  Liuydmila Monastyrska.

This show's strength rests in Puccini's watch-spring of a score, which invokes time, place, and the rawest of human emotions. Tosca is the story of Floria Tosca, a professional opera singer and Cavaradossi a cavalier young painter who collectively find themselves under the boot of Baron Scarpia, the evil chief of Rome's secret police. The originall "shabby little shocker", Tosca  runs red with torture, murder and a really big Act I finale that was once featured in the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace.

Traipsing through Mr. Bondy's ugly sets is is a mixed cast of singers, so depending on which night you go you may have a very different operatic experience. The Toscasrange from the lyric (Ms. Gheorghiu) to the full on dramatic powerhouse (Ms. Guleghina) with the others falling somewhere in between. Their Cavaradossis are also a mixed bunch, with Massomino Giordano, veteran Marcello Giordani (no relation) and Roberto Aronica each getting gunned down by the Met firing squad. Baritones George Gagnidze, Željko Lučić and Marco Vratogna will each twirl their non-existent mustaches as the evil Baron Scarpia.

Tosca opens Oct. 16. 

Recording Recommendations:
Coro e Orchestra della Scala cond. Victor de Sabata (EMI/WBC, 1953)
Floria Tosca: Maria Callas
Mario di Cavaradossi: Giuseppe di Stefano
Baron Scarpia: Tito Gobbi
The 1953 mono EMI set (now reissued on Warner Brothers Classics) is the classic Maria Callas recording of Tosca. All of her affectations, flaws and nuances are present, in magnificent (and immediate) EMI mono sound. The "Vissi d'arte" is divine. Di Stefano had not yet begun his steep vocal decline, and Gobbi is a perfect bastard of a police chief. Accept no substitutes--Note: Do not buy the 1997 remastered version in the black slipcase with the black-and-white Callas photo. The remastering engineer made a serious error, which made it onto some of the CDs. The problem was corrected on the 2009 pressing.

Vienna Philharmonic cond. Herbert von Karajan (Decca, 1962)
Floria Tosca: Leontyne Price
Mario di Cavaradossi: Giuseppe di Stefano
Baron Scarpia: Giuseppe Taddei
This is Leontyne Price's first recorded Tosca, and it remains a superb set. Although di Stefano had roughened over the nine years that separate these recordigs, he is still a tremendous presence as Cavaradossi. Ms. Price brings a different, compelling interpretation to the title role and Taddei is a nasty Scarpia. Herbert von Karajan and the Vienna forces make a formidable pairing, and their playing is inspired. So is the recording: an early example of the Decca Sonicstage technique developed by producer John Culshaw.

Tickets for Tosca are available at MetOpera.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office.
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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.