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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 © 2018 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

And save thy captive...Tosca?
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Rome if you want to: Emmanuel Villaume not standing atop the Castle Sant'Angelo.
The conductor will step in for the suspended James Levine in the Met's new Tosca.
Photo of Mr. Villaume by TheaterJones. Photo alteration by the author.
Tosca is an opera of violence and derring-do, of an artist and an opera singer confronted by evil and corruption and trying to save themselves from the clutches of Rome's police chief, Baron Scarpia. In a case of life imitating art, the Metropolitan Opera's troubled production of Tosca has found its savior: French conductor Emmanuel Villaume.

It was announced today by the Met press office that Mr. Villaume, who recently conducted a successful run of the Massenet opera Thaïs at the Met, will be in the pit for the premiere of the company's eagerly awaited new production of the Puccini opera, starting on New Year's Eve. The conductor comes as an eleventh hour replacement for Met music director emeritus James Levine. This is the second time this Tosca has undergone a podium change: Andris Nelsons was originally scheduled to conduct but pulled out earlier this year.

Mr. Villaume, who is the current music director of the Dallas Opera, will conduct Tosca at the opera's premiere, and then remain in the pit for performances in January. The opening night features soprano Sonya Yoncheva (herself a replacement for soprano Kristine Opalais) in the title role, opposite Vittorio Grigolo in the role of Cavaradossi. The dastardly Scarpia will be played by Sir Bryn Terfel, who also sung this role in the Met's previous production. The spring performances will be led by conductor Bertrand de Billy and will star Anna Netrebko, Marcelo Àlvarez and Michael Volle in the opera's three key roles.

Mr. Levine was suspended on Sunday following a news item that broke in Saturday's New York Post. The Post described a long-buried Illinois police report in which Mr. Levine assaulted a young musician. In the last two days, the 74 year old conductor has been further accused by three more men, all of whom describe sexual contact that took place before any of them reached the age of 18. Further details on the scandal are available in the pages of the New York Times.

Metropolitan Opera general manager Peter Gelb, who learned of the Illinois police report last year, had withheld judgment for a year while the matter is being investigated. However, on Sunday afternoon, Mr. Levine was suspended indefinitely and all of his scheduled conducting jobs were wiped from the Met schedule. This immediately put the new Tosca in crisis, as it was being marketed to celebrate another milestone in Mr. Levine's long career at the opera house.

This production by Sir David McVicar represents Mr. Gelb's second attempt at staging Tosca. The first, which replaced the much-loved Franco Zeffirelli production of the opera with a drab version by French director Luc Bondy, was met with scathing reviews from critics and booing from the Met audience. Sir David's new staging is much more conservative, in line with the opera's Roman setting and in keeping with what the Met's aging audience expects when they plunk down their money to hear Puccini.

Of course, some of those subscribers, at least until this week, also expected to hear Mr. Levine.

Note: Earlier this blog post referred to the director Luc Besson as the director of the previous Met Tosca. Luc Bondy directed the show. Had Mr. Besson, whose credits include La Femme Nikita, León, and The Fifth Element done the opera production, it might still be running!

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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.