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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Tosca

Two new casts take the stage in two runs of the Puccini potboiler.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
It's good to be the chief: Željko Lučić as Scarpia in the Met's Tosca.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2018 The Metropolitan Opera.
On New Year's Eve 2017, the Metropolitan Opera raised the curtain on its new production of Tosca. This staging returns the opera to its original Roman setting in a budget-friendly version of one of Puccini's most opulent shows.

What is Tosca?
This is Giacomo Puccini's fifth opera, a lean, compact story of two lovers: a young, cavalier painter and a famous operatic soprano, caught in the sights of the predatory police chief of Rome. With lust, religious choruses, attempted rape, and a couple of good, bloody murders, Tosca is one of the most intense and most beloved operas of all time.

What's Tosca about?
Based on a pot-boiling French play this opera follows the short life of the opera singer Floria Tosca. Tosca is a fiery, jealous woman, possessive of her lover Mario Cavaradossi but warm-hearted and good. When her lover helps a political prisoner escape the clutches of the evil Baron Scarpia, a string of disastrous consequences plays out that results in the deaths of all of the major characters.

OK. Tell me something else cool about Tosca.
This one of the few operas in the repertory that takes place on a compressed and realistic schedule with all of the events playing out in the course of 24 hours. The first that takes place on the morning of June 17 the second that same evening presumably around 9 o'clock because Tosca has just performed in a a concert in front of the Palazzo Farnese and the third takes place at dawn on the following day.

What's the music like?
Puccini was a master tunesmith, and Tosca is one of his greatest creations. Each of the three acts has its own major hit town and all of the singers get a chance to shine in their own way. Kevin a DOS he started off with "Recondita  armonia", musing about the beauty of Tosca. That act climaxes in the Te Deum, a choral showcase with Scarpia downstage blaspheming away and growling out his lust for Tosca. The second act stops dead for "Vissi d'arte" one of the great soprano showpieces. In the final act, Cavaradossi sings the glorious "E lucevan le stelle" before going to his death.

Who's in it?
There are two casts this year. In the fall, Sondra Radvanovsky brings her big voice and bigger stage presence to the title role, opposite tenor Josef Calleja as Cavaradossi. In a casting change, Wolfgang Koch has withdrawn from the fall performances, but will make his Met debut as Scarpia in the spring. His replacements are Met utility baritone villain Željko Lučić for the opening night and Claudio Sgura for the next five performances. In the spring performances, soprano Jennifer Rowley will sing Tosca. Veteran Italian conductor Carlo Rizzi is scheduled to lead all the performances.

How's the production?
Tosca has the virtue of being a site-specific opera, with the action set in three specific locations in the eternal city of Rome. This production by Sir David McVicar features sets that resemble those locations: the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, the Palazzo Farnese and the roof of the Castel di Sant'Angelo overlooking the Tiber River. The action of Tosca takes place on June 17th and 18th in the year 1800. To our knowledge, the Met is not installing time-travel devices in an effort to maintain maximum authenticity for the premiere.

Why should I see it?
Did we mention that this is one of Puccini's greatest operas, a two-fisted red-blooded and (for an Italian opera, anyway) feminist story. Did we mention that it opens with a prison break and ends with a stunning suicide?

When does it open?
Tosca returns to the stage on Oct. 25. The spring run of the production starts March 18.

Where can I get tickets?
Tickets  are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save the $10 service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recordings do you recommend?
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