Has parts of bewilderment, but still is a HUGE improvement over the 2009 production
Coming from somebody who, like many others, really disliked the 2009 Luc Bondy-directed Met production- finding it hugely distasteful and dramatically cold with a very ill-suited Tosca- there was some intrepidation knowing that this was a revival of that production. However seeing as the opera is a masterpiece and my personal favourite Puccini opera, I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and watch it anyway. And live in HD telecasts is such a good way of broadcasting these series of Met productions, it is like being there live but much cheaper and accessible and you're able to see things that you don't see as well sitting in the audience of the opera house.
Although it is a long way from perfect, this 2013 revival production is a huge improvement over the 2009 production, much better singing, much more passionate dramatically, with character relationships more convincing and better fleshed out, and a far superior Tosca. It does share some of the same problems that plagued the earlier production, namely the production values and some of the staging. The sets are very stark and barren(not an appealing look for someone familiar with Zeffirelli or the authentic settings in the 1976 film, my personal favourite and first Tosca) with very little attention to detail or authenticity, in particular Act 1 looked like it was set in a deserted factory. The production can be too darkly lit as well, sometimes in Act 3 it was like seeing bobbing heads amidst the darkness. In general the staging is much more compelling and tasteful, but there are exceptions. Any production of Tosca can do without Scarpia kissing a statue at the end of the Te Deum and opening the second act with Scarpia in his lair with hookers, those touches are not just irrelevant but rather distorts Scarpia's character to emphasising his villainy to extremes. The stunt double(more dummy actually) at the end was obviously fake.
The costumes fare much better though, on the most part they are well suited for the characters and traditional-looking. The only notable exception actually is that for Scarpia, who looked too much like a dishevelled drug-lord, a more refined approach is needed, he is evil and corrupt definitely but also elegant and at times with subtlety in his manipulation of Tosca, here it was another case of taking one of the greatest characters in all opera to extremities. The HD was fantastic and with such clarity and the sound was very good too(though with moments where it could have favoured the orchestra less). There was one minor glitch between the two before the climax but that was all. And with the drama, nothing cold here, in fact you are left both devastated and exhausted by the final curtain which is exactly the right feeling. Act 2 has a lot of intensity with a quite gut-wrenching murder scene, and the Act 1 duet between Tosca and Cavaradossi was very passionate and tender. There was a lot of care in how the characters interacted with one another, the scenes with Tosca and Scarpia are done with a sense of terror and authority, you can feel the love between Tosca and Cavaradossi and I loved how Scarpia did seem genuinely concerned for Tosca in the first act, the one part in the entire production where he shows an ounce of humanity.
Musically, the production is more than solid. The orchestral playing is pretty outstanding, Puccini's score is so magnificent and the orchestra play it like they know it is. They are very well-rehearsed and together, in the passionate and intense moments they play with authority and the moments that call for pathos it is all understated and sensitive. The strings swell up beautifully without being too "glib" during Tosca's exit before Te Deum(even if you do miss the unforgettable moment in the 1976 film where Scarpia walks with Tosca out of the church holding hands). But the standouts were the beautifully-played clarinet solo in E Lucevan E Le Stelle and the cello solo(s)- a part in Tosca that reduces me to tears every time- before the aria. The conducting is solid too, though Act 3 and some of Act 2 could have had more intensity, beautiful lines and phrasing, good musicality, nice balancing of textures and sympathy to the drama.
Renee Fleming is a warm and very inviting host, and the interviews are interesting and you get a lot out of them. The intermissions did feel a little too long though. The performances are very good. The Angelotti did sound somewhat underpowered but the Sacristan and Spoletta are suitably befuddled and oily. Patricia Racette is leagues ahead of Karita Mattila, her acting is much more subtle and dimensional and, while with some unsteadiness and tuning issues, her singing does have a poignant timbre and deep feeling. Roberto Alagna does sound harsh and sharp at times during the production, but much of the singing is ardent, strong, heroic and lyrical(E Lucevan E Le Stelle is so beautifully phrased). And he is very commanding as an actor, far more convincing than in the 2001 film with Gheorghiu and Raimondi, here he is affecting, defiant, noble and like a passionate lover with a real sense that he knows his death will be real. George Gagnidze's(who was also in the 2009 production and the best thing about it too) voice is not the most attractive or powerful-he may have been helped more if he wasn't so far up the stage at some points- but it does show great musicianship and very fearsome vocal expression. There are Scarpias much more refined(Sherrill Milnes is one such example) but Gagnidze is so authoritative and puts terror in your heart, a really menacing and powerful performance.
Overall, has some very bewildering moments in the visuals and staging but when it is good like with the performances and what is done with how the characters interact it just dazzles. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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