Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tosca è un buon falco!

I wasn't planning on seeing Tosca again this season.  But then, at the end of Saturday's radio broadcast of Wozzeck, they announced that, unfortunately, James Morris was ill, and would be replaced by Bryn Terfel as Scarpia in that night's performance.  I couldn't resist.  Having gone, I know that I would have been seriously missing out by not hearing Violeta Urmana's tigress of a Tosca.  Licitra was robust, but it was the clash between Terfel and Urmana that gave the evening its energy, for me; the orchestra contributed beauty and drama.

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

Salvatore Licitra

Urmana, fast-moving diva!

Company bows


  1. lol I was wondering how much of a run on the box office that announcement was going to make. How was the ticket line?

  2. @DTO Pithily put! I was trying to find a more elegant way of saying that Urmana's Tosca rocked my socks off, and eventually gave up.

    @stray Quite a few of the sections were sold out before announcement was made; another went as I watched the seating diagram through the afternoon. I don't think the house was packed out, though. I arrived around 7, to find no line to speak of. I couldn't get a student ticket, but there was plenty of elbow room standing in the Family Circle.

  3. Oh, Bryn. He was my very first Operatic Love: I discovered him through my dad's "Figaro" obsession when I was about thirteen. I met him in Salt Lake a few years ago, when he sang Mendelssohn's "Elijah" with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Got his autograph and managed not to dither like a complete idiot. I have so much love and respect for the man.

  4. You have the best opera experiences. I love your 'I arrived at 7, to find no line to speak of' comment- if only I could expect to find the same when Bryn sings the role at the Royal Opera House this summer! Fully expecting to queue all night..

  5. @Christie Good choice!! A "Nozze" with Terfel's Figaro is one of the prizes of the CD collection shared by the Beloved Flatmate and me. I can imagine that his Elijah would be prodigious. Congratulations on not dithering! :)

    @opera chat What can I say? :) I'm lucky to live in NYC, where other opera-goers would seem to be lazy (or at least deterred by gusts of torrential rain.) The house sold well, but they weren't turning people away. Which is crazy. I'm going to be queuing for at least one Walkuere, which will be quite an experience, I suspect (queue and opera!)

  6. I see they finally put up the video of his '98 Figaro on MetPlayer, well worth checking out and (regardless of tales from backstage) imho one of the best things they ever broadcast. (And this is not just because I'm a big fan of Heinz Zednik.)

  7. Did you see Falk Struckmann as Scarpia at the Met? I thought he was magnificent. I agreed with your assessment of the Bondy production in general. The business with the call girls was ridiculous because if Scarpia can have any woman, why would he want or need Tosca? Yes, and I definitely got the impression they keep fiddling with the stage business.

  8. @stray Thanks for the info! One of these days I will splurge for that.

    @Gale I did see Struckmann, and found him a wonderfully engaging Scarpia. The layers of conscious theatricality were a really interesting take on the character, I thought (post in January archive.) I agree that the dramatic tension of Scarpia's hypocritical sensualism is undermined by the presence of the prostitutes. Oh well... the singing was good!

  9. dear friends! does anybody know if there is somewhere the recording (audio podcasts) of Urmana's Tosca from Met 2011! ?

    thank you)

  10. @amnaan2006 Not that I know of, I'm afraid. The Met Player doesn't have it at this point, but it is updated with some frequency, so you might check:


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