NOTES: A radiant “Tosca” at the Met Opera
The Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Puccini’s “Tosca” premiered with a gala performance on New Year’s Eve, heralding the new year through a highly anticipated staging that capped a rocky 12 months of development, replete with a constant stream of cast changes and a marquee sex scandal threatening the institution—all in a much-buzzed-about quest for redemption.
In 2009, the Met Opera famously (or infamously) replaced its beloved and gaudy 1985 Franco Zeffirelli production of “Tosca” with a new, modern take by the late-Swiss director Luc Bondy that greatly pared down the sets and introduced some controversial staging choices. Upending the normally staid world of opera, the audience booed on opening night and critics tore it apart. This classic of the cannon was deemed needlessly defiled.
And so, the stakes were high for director Sir David McVicar and designer John Macfarlane, and they have delivered with a sumptuously beautiful and traditional production that restores and elevates the grand and naturalistic sets. The Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, Palazzo Farnese, and Castel Sant’Angelo—the settings for each act—are all real places in Rome, now faithfully represented on stage once again with the painstaking attention to detail that is a hallmark of the Met Opera.
However, scenery aside, the real stars of the production are Sonya Yoncheva as the diva Tosca, and Vittorio Grigolo as her lover, the painter (and political dissident) Cavaradossi—each singing their roles for the first time and replacing more established singers who dropped from the production amid its casting drama. Perhaps this element of spontaneity and chaos paradoxically injected the ordinarily orderly and well-planned Met Opera with an energy that lends a fresh radiance to the opera. I am no expert—having come to the form relatively recently—but even I could tell something special was happening on stage with Ms. Yoncheva and Mr. Grigolo.
As for the opera itself, there is a reason it is so celebrated. Puccini’s score is highly melodic, making it an excellent, accessible choice for those who are not as familiar with opera or even intimidated by the form. Despite the grand settings (and they are grand!), “Tosca” is an intimate story of love, jealousy, sacrifice, and resistance set against a sweeping, and factual, political backdrop of war and conquest in 1800 Rome. It has endured since its premiere in 1900 because of its piercing drama and glorious music, and now back at the Met with a stunning production, this is one opera no fan should miss and the curious should consider—and it has one of the best endings ever (no spoilers!).
Ticket Tip: the Met Opera offers $25 Rush Tickets daily online