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Subject: Wall Street Journal Review of Met's New 'Tosca'
From: "Max D. Winter" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Max D. Winter
Date:Wed, 3 Jan 2018 17:32:37 -0500

text/plain (82 lines)

Here is the Wall Street Journal review of the Met's new Tosca:   

‘Tosca’ Review: Rome Restored at the Met
An astute new production overcomes many setbacks and avoids its predecessor’s pitfalls.
New York

The Metropolitan Opera’s new “ Tosca, ” which opened on New Year’s Eve, was intended as a 
corrective. In 2009, for the opening night of Peter Gelb’s fourth season as general manager, 
the company replaced its beloved 1985 Franco Zeffirelli production, a lavish, hyper-realistic 
depiction of the opera, with a stark, minimalist, more sexually explicit version directed by 
Luc Bondy. For Met traditionalists, this move suggested that the barbarians—that is, the 
dreaded “director’s theater” stagings so prevalent in European opera houses—were finally at 
the gates, and the production was vigorously booed on opening night.

The barbarians did not prevail, however, and in recent seasons the Met has become much 
more cautious about the style of its new productions, particularly those in the standard 
repertory. (Mr. Zeffirelli’s vintage “La Bohème” and “Turandot” also remain in regular 
rotation.) To further assuage those fears, director David McVicar and designer John 
Macfarlane were assigned to replace the Bondy “Tosca” with a representational staging, and 
given a splashy, superstar cast to perform it. Although all three of the original principal 
singers and the conductor ended up being replaced over the course of last year, for various 
reasons, Mr. McVicar’s attractive, unthreatening, yet astute production will probably do 
exactly what the Met wanted it to do: provide a dependable source of box-office income for 
years to come.

Mr. Macfarlane’s handsome sets are recognizably Puccini’s Roman locations. Yet, in each 
one, vanishing-point perspective draws the viewer’s eye toward a single spot: a golden 
sunburst-surrounded crucifix above the chapel altar in the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle; 
a blazing fireplace in the Palazzo Farnese; the sword-wielding statue of the Archangel 
Michael on the roof of the Castel Sant’Angelo fortress. Mr. Macfarlane’s painterly details—a 
fresco of the Rape of the Sabines on the Farnese wall, for example, and the swooping bowl 
of clouds that frames the angel statue—make these places feel like active, eternal caldrons 
of struggle and violence. Atmospherically lighted by David Finn, the locations are purposeful 
as well as realistic, evoking the powerful political and religious forces of the city.

It all makes a visually pleasing frame for Mr. McVicar’s careful directing, the most interesting 
aspect of which, on opening night, was the chemistry between the two lovers. Sonya 
Yoncheva as Tosca and Vittorio Grigolo as Cavaradossi, both singing these roles for the first 
time, came across as youthful, ardent and innocent, ready to throw themselves on the fire 
for their love and their beliefs. In Act I, there was nothing calculated or entitled in Ms. 
Yoncheva’s explosions of jealousy; her Tosca was truly suffering and her smoky timbre lent 
the diva softness and vulnerability. She was affectingly matched by Mr. Grigolo, who had a 
jittery, almost manic intensity as the young painter and revolutionary. He held nothing back 
in his singing, yet he always made a beautiful sound. Their duets were electric; their kisses 
hot and numerous, and Mr. Grigolo’s despairing “E lucevan le stelle” in Act III, when 
Cavaradossi thinks he will never see Tosca again, was a moment of the most profound loss.

As Scarpia, the evil police chief who lusts after Tosca and arrests, tortures and condemns 
Cavaradossi, Željko Lucic was an imposing figure with a voice to match. However, perhaps 
in reaction to the current climate of sexual harassment exposure, Mr. McVicar made the 
Scarpia-Tosca confrontation feel contemporary. Mr. Lucic’s Scarpia was brutal, but it was his 
oily confidence, with no doubts about his ultimate success, that conveyed his power. He 
barely touched Ms. Yoncheva; yet when he did, it was creepy, as was the way he grinned 
and toyed with her. Although their cat-and-mouse scene leading up to “Vissi d’arte” seemed 
a little underplayed and lacking in tension, it was a relief that Ms. Yoncheva was not thrown 
to the floor, as Tosca so often is, and was allowed to sing the aria—with great beauty and 
feeling—on her feet. Her Tosca showed some of the necessary hints of steel, particularly 
after she stabbed Scarpia and hissed “Die! Die!” as she crouched beside him, holding his 

Emmanuel Villaume was the expert conductor; the chorus was vigorous in the “Te Deum.” 
Other pluses included Mr. Macfarlane’s subtly elegant period costumes, and some telling 
dramatic moments—as when Mr. Grigolo, facing the firing squad on trembling legs, was 
forced to hold up a lantern so they knew where to aim. It was just one example of Mr. 
McVicar’s welcome ability to find originality within a traditional framework.

Heidi Waleson

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