Review: A Traditional ‘Tosca’ Returns, With Cheers, to the Met
By Mark McLaren, Editor in Chief, January 1, 2018
A pretty new Tosca arrived at the Metropolitan Opera last night, made exciting by the stunning work of tenor Vittorio Grigolo and an impressive debut by soprano Sonya Yoncheva in the haunted title role.
But not before a tortured journey. The Met’s Tosca drama started in 2009 when general manager Peter Gelb replaced the popular Zeffirelli staging with a spare, sexy and artistically successful production by Luc Bondy, enraging much of the Met’s core audience. Subscriber attrition (to death among other variables) is a concern for the organization, and the Met announced its new (ish) Tosca as a white flag to that constituency.
Drama continued as the production lost all of its principals including tenor Jonas Kaufmann and soprano Kristine Opolais. Conductor Andris Nelsons exited, and his replacement, longtime Metropolitan Opera music director (and Met artistic director between 1986 and 2004) James Levine, who made his Met debut with Tosca in 1971, was permanently dismissed by the Met for inappropriate MeToo behavior during his early career.
But the Metropolitan Opera House, the building itself it seems, breathed an enormous sigh of relief last night as Grigolo dove into a full-throated and gorgeously committed “Recondita armonia.” The tenor has become a house favorite following singular performances in last season’s Roméo et Juliette and Werther. Good tenors are hard to find and great tenors are rare. This great tenor’s sound is gorgeous and comfortable, round and robust throughout his range. And it’s as dependable as a full moon. He brings to this impressive sound singing that is uninhibited and vocal scenes that are delightful raw emotion. It would be difficult to find a better live performance of “Recondita” or “E lucevan le stelle” than those heard last night at the Met.
Since her 2013 debut, Yoncheva has also, rightly, become a Met house favorite. Like another famous Tosca, Yoncheva’s role choices have been broad and like Grigolo, her voice is both youthful and mature, deep and rich, confident and expressive. Yoncheva, who brought the house down last night with “Vissi d’arte,” will be in opera headlines for decades.
Both are confident actors, Grigolo jumping feet-first while Yoncheva makes careful and clean decisions. Both are gripping together. The bariton Željko Lučić rounds out this Tosca trio as a smartly well-sung and concisely sadistic Scarpia.
Drama, theatrical integrity and vocal prowess reign in this Tosca, accompanied sumptuously by the Metropolitan Opera orchestra under Emmanuel Villaume.
John Macfarlane’s set is, if dull, grandly realistic. It’s pretty. It’s most impactful moment may be the production’s show’s curtain, Archangel Michael watching over the proceedings sword in hand. But the physical production is Zeffirelli-lite and if the Met’s subscriber base wanted Zeffirelli’s Tosca, it’s confusing as to why Zeffirelli’s Tosca isn’t onstage as this season’s Metropolitan Opera’s Tosca.
But so be it. This cast is well worth taking in. Later in the run, two other sopranos add Tosca to their repertoire. In May, superstar and another Met house soprano Anna Netrebko debuts her heroine in what will be a career step as anticipated as it is logical.
And excitingly, the very young American soprano Jennifer Rowley takes on the iconic role following a successful Met bow last season as Roxane in its Cyrano de Bergerac (reviewed here) and following a Met debut as Musetta in 2014. ZEALnyc profiled Rowley prior to last season’s Cyrano.
Tosca is the essence of opera. Tosca brought Bill and Hilary Clinton to the Met last night. And you should take this opportunity to see this spectacular cast in the Met’s latest incarnation of Tosca.
Tosca by Giacomo Puccini at Metropolitan Opera in a new production by Sir David McVicar, set and costume designs by John Macfarlane, lighting design by David Finn and movement design by Leah Hausman, and with Sonya Yoncheva, Vittorio Grigolo, Željko Lučić, Christian Zaremba, Patrick Carfizzi, Brenton Ryan, Christopher Job, Davida Dayle and Richard Bernstein. Tosca plays through May 12 with two additional casts.