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TOSCA – Review of McVicar’s Live from The MET Production

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After you have found the singers, the orchestra and chorus, a successful production of an opera requires a grand vision and scrupulous attention to details. The Metropolitan Opera has assembled everything for its new production of Tosca and the result is, not surprisingly a massive success despite numerous mishaps of which more below.
Let’s start with the singers. The title role is taken by Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva. She has a luminous voice and manages to give a truly dramatic performance as the jealous diva. She and her lover Cavaradossi (tenor Vittorio Grigolo) are youthful lovers who cannot keep their hands and lips off each other. Their duets and her solos are splendid examples of vocal delivery. Her “Vissi d’arte” may lack some of the sustained high notes and emotional breadth we ideally expect but it brought the house down. Her relish in killing Scarpia was delightful for those of us who love to see a creep put down for ever.
Grigolo brought youth and erotic intensity to Cavaradossi. His fine voice and physical agility make him ideal for the role. He was especially dramatic and moving in his “E lucevan le stelle” where the camera concentrated on his face poised from underneath. Everything was right about his singing and he brought the house down.
Baritone Željko Lučić sings the nasty Scarpia and he is splendid at it. Lučić has a resonant voice that he uses to fine effect to express his evil megalomania and cruel depravity. With the deep furrow between his eyebrows and his swaggering, authoritarian manner, he expresses a man who is used to getting his way. A superb performance.
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus has an easy night with singing basically only a “Te Deum” but the segment rises to absolutely thrilling heights. The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra conducted by Emmanuel Villaume rises to equal heights throughout.
Tosca has had a somewhat spotty history at the Met of late. After revving Franco Zeffirelli’s production of the 1980’s for a quarter of a century, General Director Peter Gelb hired Luc Bondy to do something different. It was a more or less a disaster not that there were not people who thought highly of it. For the current new production, Gelb retained Director David McVicar who has opted for a traditional, opulent production in line with Franco Zeffirelli’s.
McVicar and Set and Costume Designer John Macfarlane give traditional sets. The first scene set in the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle features grand pillars and an imposing interior of a Baroque cathedral. Scarpia’s office is large, mostly dark with the painting of The Rape of the Virgins and suggestive of menace. The ramparts of Castel Sant’Angelo with the winged statute of the Archangel Michael hovering above is another example of operatic sets on a grand scale.
But along with the grand vision, McVicar pays attention to countless details that give the production an unexpected freshness. A few examples. McVicar humanizes the Sacristan (Patrick Carfizzi) be making him take snuff to calm his nerves and slightly mocking Cavaradossi. We like the Sacristan.
When Cavaradossi tries to kiss Tosca in the church, she pushes him away because they are in front of the Madonna. Then she points to a spot where the Madonna cannot “see” them and they smooch like the young lovers that they are. Tosca is burning with love, Cavaradossi tells us, and he is right and she proves it.
As Scarpia is ordering his henchmen to search for Angelotti in the church, several attractive women walk by and one of them looks longingly at him. This lecher has many women on the line. In his office with Tosca, he brags of his lust and of his preference for violent sex. The word has almost gone from common usage, but Scarpia is a rapist. When he tries to rape Tosca he grabs her breast and then her crotch. This is the gross conduct of a rapist and McVicar does not shy from showing his action graphically.
Cinema director Gary Halvorson showed many scenes from below giving extraordinary details that the audience at Lincoln Center did (could) not have witnessed. I have criticized and almost shown contempt for many of his efforts in the past. This time I have nothing but praise for him.
Few words about some of the debacles that the production faced. Jonas Kaufman cast as Cavaradossi bailed out and was replaced by Grigolo who has never sung the role before. Kristine Opolais quit as Tosca. Hello, Sonya. Conductor Andris Nelsons dropped his baton and James Levine was sent to pasture over allegations of sexual misconduct. Welcome, Emmanuel Villaume. Baritone Bryn Terfel phoned in vocal fatigue – what are you doing tonight Željko?
Despite all of those mishaps, this proved to be a thrilling performance on the big screen in every respect from vision to detail, to singing and to a grand afternoon at the opera.

Tosca by Giacomo Puccini was shown Live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera on January 27, 2018 at the at the Cineplex VIP Don Mills Shops at Don Mills, 12 Marie Labatte Road, Toronto Ontario M3C 0H9 and other theatres. Encores will be shown on February 17, 26, 28, March 3 and 11 2018 at various theatres. For more information: www.cineplex.com/events
Sonya Yoncheva as Tosca and Željko Lučić as Scarpia in an Act II rehearsal for David McVicar’s new production of «Tosca».