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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Opera Review: The Met's Tosca Telecast

Lost in the murk: Mattila and Álvarez in Tosca

I finally saw the telecast of the new Met production of Tosca. It's a disaster.

This ugly, gray staging looks as if it takes place in the South Bronx in 1979. Every building, every structure is made of drab tenement brick. Worse yet, each act is undermined by stage-y "ideas" that detract from Puccini's work. Director Luc Bondy is interested in playing with the opera's religious imagery, but his choices are ham-handed. Instead of jumping from the Castel di Sant'Angelo this production repeatedly jumps the shark, at least once at the end of each act.

In Act One, Scarpia (Carlo Guelfi) demonstrates his lust for Tosca (Karita Mattila) by molesting the statues during the "Te Deum." This recalls another famous fictional cop: Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) in The Naked Gun. It undermines the very menace of Scarpia himself, the mix of barbaric and suave is replaced with a gibbering fetishist who should be thrown head-first through the (still-closed) church doors.

The climax of Act Two, where Tosca kills Scarpia (also clumsily done) has very specific stage directions that originate in the Sardou play which gave Puccini his source material. She is supposed to lay out the body, put the cross over him, place the candles on either side and pray. But no, that's not what she does here. In Bondy's version, Tosca pauses in the window as if she is about to leap to her death an hour early. While this would have spared us the torture of watching the end of Act Three, this is not what the libretto calls for.

Act Three takes place mostly on a dark set with a brick tower. Since the actors are mostly in black or navy, it is impossible to see them through the murk. Cavaradossi is executed (standing in a corner no less!) at the back of the stage--the muzzle fire providing the act with its sole bright spark. Worst of all is the final leap, where Karita Mattila jumps off the tower and is held, in space by some kind of suspension rig, floating in the air as the curtain drops. Was the Met unable to buy mattresses? Crash pads? Trampolines?

The singing is adequate. Argentinian tenor Marcelo Álvarez is a personable Cavaradossi doing his best to make a mark through the gloom. Carlo Guelfi is an adequate Scarpia though what you really remember is his ridiculous play-acting. Karita Mattila is completely mis-cast in the title role. Her cool, icy demeanor lacks that flash of sexuality reined in by strict, Catholic religiosity that burns at the very heart of this opera. Tellingly, the telecast cut off just before the director took the stage and faced the wrath of the Metropolitan Opera audience.

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