|Vittorio Grigolo & Sonya Yoncheva in "Tosca"|
(photo: Metropolitan Opera)
Tosca, the beloved opera created in 1900, composed by Giacomo Puccini with scenario by Luigi Illica and libretto by Giuseppe Giacoso (the same trio that created La Boheme and later Madama Butterfly) is the hit of the Metropolitan Opera season in its stunning new production. . Based on an 1889 play of the same name by Sardou, set against the historical backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, it's a true potboiler in the best possible meaning of the term.
What can one say about the plot of such a familiar work? Most opera devotees will already know that the story takes place in three real Roman settings, in each of its three acts. In the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, sensitive painter Mario Cavaradossi (tenor Vittorio Grigolo) is interrupted as he paints a portrait of Mary Magdalene, first by a Sacristan (bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi), then by his friend the political prison escapee Cesare Angelotti (bass Christian Zaremba, whose sister posed for the painting), whom Cavaradossi helps to hide. Then arrives the painter's lover, famed opera singer Floria Tosca (soprano Sonya Yoncheva), who is aware of his political beliefs but is herself apolitical. Finally appears the Chief of Police Baron Scarpia (bass-baritone Zeljko Lucic) who is hunting Angelotti. Subsequently, in his suite in the Farnese Palace, Scarpia summons Tosca to interrogate her while he has Cavaradossi tortured within earshot, finally getting her to agree to his lusty demands if he will set up a mock execution of her lover. Scarpia arranges with his assistants Spoletta (tenor Brenton Ryan) and Sciarrone (bass-baritone Christopher Job) to pretend to carry out a mock firing squad, while actually using real bullets. Tosca then stabs Scarpia to death. Finally, atop the Castel Sant'Angelo, Tosca witnesses what she believes is a fake execution, but turns out to be real (not fake news?). She then makes her final statement of resistance.
From the first familiar chords, this was a production to cherish. Yoncheva, in her debut in this title role, immediately impresses with her soaring presence, as does Grigolo from his first entrance to his last act aria E lucevan le stelle, about how the stars shimmer but his life has come to nothing. Lucic also excels, notably in Scarpia's Hapiu forte sapore, as he foresees Tosca bending to his will. But it is Yoncheva who makes this production a true gem, with her magnificent vocalizing and acting chops, especially in the most famous aria, Vissi d'arte , about how she has lived for art (and love). She's a true find, a singing actress who even looks the part of a young opera star, rare indeed in a role that requires that a soprano deliver a polished sound and fury. She was the greatest source of pleasure even for opera buffs very familiar with the work, but by no means the only such reason to celebrate.
Emmanuel Villaume's conducting and the orchestra's playing were integral to the opera and enhanced the overall experience). The new production by David McVicar with sets and costumes by John MacFarlane worked very well without overwhelming the singers as some past productions of this work have been known to do. Very effective Lighting Design by David Finn was outstanding in its subtle use of follow spots. Even HD Host Isabel Leonard added charm and interest. As ever, the HD Director Gary Halvorson was impeccable. All in all, it's a wonderful treat to re-encounter an operatic war horse that displays such a respectful yet original approach.
Given the fatal outcomes for the three headliners, this is opera's ultimate triple header for pessimists and lovers of tragedy, as well as, not coincidentally, those members of an audience who aren't familiar with the work, a truly unforgettable experience.
Encore HD Broadcast will be shown on Wednesday January 31 at a theater near you.