I still don't really like Luc Bondy's Tosca. The Met still seems to be playing some sort of roulette to determine what stage business will actually happen. Of the four times I've seen it, the January run gave me the most coherent sense of a production concept. Cavaradossi played chess again tonight, more clearly in a metaphorical way. That's all I got from it, really: a big, stark shell with oddly-placed furniture, framing a clearly dysfunctional society. So, it's up to the singers to fill it. Secondary roles were competently filled. Veteran Paul Plishka was, again, the fussy sacristan; Richard Bernstein an impressively strong Angelotti (he had moments of slight roughness, but this worked for me with the character.) Neel Ram Nagarajan, an outstanding Yniold in December, was here the shepherd boy, with incredible size and beauty of sound. The soldiers stopped what they were doing to listen, and it was believable. The orchestra, under Marco Armiliato, sounded slightly unfocused to me in Act I, but this may have been me; they certainly captured brilliantly the tension of Act II, and heartbreaking, expressive detail in Act III. And each act ended with me tensed up, which means, I think, that at least several things are going very right in your Tosca.
I wanted to like Salvatore Licitra's Cavaradossi more than I did. If I had to pick one adjective for his performance, it would be businesslike. He has an impressively large, ringing tenore robusto, but his high notes frequently sounded shouted or strained. I thought Licitra did his best singing in Act III, with an "E lucevan le stelle" that had emotional expression and some dynamic nuance. "Recondita armonia" was strongly sung, but not intoxicated with love. I looked for romance in the first act, for anguish, fear, doubt, pride in the second; I didn't find them. He may have been having an off night; Opera and Me reviewed an earlier performance in the run and found none of the vocal and dramatic stiffness I lamented.
Meanwhile, Bryn Terfel's Scarpia was a formidable, formidably sensual monster: aristocratic, intimidating, calculating, suave. The performance I saw him in last year remains in a league of its own; last night's was still the work of a master. I think I noticed some improvisational stage business from time to time, but it worked. The injunctions of the libretto (and the music!) were interpreted with admirable subtlety; the dynamics of the scene in the church were clearer, and consequently more thrilling, than I think I've ever seen them. When Terfel, standing in the shadow of a pillar, addreses Tosca for the first time, she looks around for a moment without seeing him, adding a still more Mephistophelean flavor to his appearance. Scarpia's tactics (and vocal nuances) in Act II were adapted to personalities of a Cavaradossi and Tosca very different from those of last year's run. And it worked, I thought, brilliantly. There was tremendous chemistry of tension between Urmana and Terfel, and Scarpia all too clearly derived a sadistic-sexual kick out of the evening's goings-on. (The pianissimo "Ebbene?" ended nuzzling into Tosca's neck.) Getting a last-minute Scarpia on his day off from rehearsing Wotan may be of debatable wisdom, but Terfel, his charisma stretching the Met at the seams, was in his element.
Violeta Urmana sang an intense Tosca, with rich, gleaming, redoubtable sound. The way she shaded increasing irritation into her "Mario! Mario! Mario!" had the audience chuckling and on her side before she even came on stage. Without much chemistry (that I perceived; again, I refer you to the Opera and Me link for a different take) between Urmana and Licitra, I felt that their scene together fell a bit flat; Urmana's singing was expressive, but I missed the charm that scene can have. In fiercely jealous rage, she came across much better, making the "O mio bel nido insozzato di fango!" outbursts, and even the superfluous stabbing of the portrait, credible. In the second act, she was, if anything, even fiercer: hell hath no fury like a diva messed with. Sparks flew between her and Terfel's Scarpia; despite the vulnerability of Tosca's position, she was strong-willed in the face of Scarpia's intimidation, matching him sneer for sneer, and meeting his threats with bravado. Urmana never let the audience lose sight of Tosca's warmth, though, or of her fear; the "Voglio vederlo" was uttered while confronting Scarpia, but overflowing with love. Her "Vissi d'arte" was done very differently from that of the other three divas I've seen in this role; it was an angry demand of God, which Urmana delivered pacing, then downstage and demanding. Vocally, she nailed it; it was a truly arresting dramatic moment, and the audience applause was anything but perfunctory. "E avanti a lui tremava tutta Roma" was simply delicious. She was just as great in Act III; a nice touch was that Licitra threw himself into her arms before even glancing at the safe conduct. Urmana's narrative was gripping, and their best music together was the exultant "Trionfal." My heart was in my mouth as Tosca waited; the end of this opera always gets me. Urmana's interpretation of Tosca's heartbreak fit beautifully with the rest of her characterization, and her "O Scarpia, avanti al Dio!" was radiantly defiant. A diva worth naming the opera after.
|Tall, terrific Terfel|
|Urmana, fast-moving diva!|