It was only two weeks ago that I saw Jonathan Kent’s ninth revival of Tosca at the Royal Opera House with Joseph Calleja, Gerald Finley and Adrianne Pieczonka (my thoughts here). Now I’m reporting about another production of Tosca based in a different continent. One cannot deny how Puccini’s music enraptures us and that’s one of the major reasons why Tosca has remained a repertoire staple for many international opera houses.
The Met HD live performance of Tosca was like a Super Bowl event. This Saturday, Sonya Yoncheva headlined the lead role in her first ever performance of Puccini’s Tosca. Vittorio Grigolo also made his debut and melted our hearts with a photograph of him as the shepherd boy with Pavarotti, as Cavaradossi, in Mauro Bolognini’s production, taken almost 30 years ago.
The opera broadcast streamed to 900 cinemas and figures, confirmed on Sunday night, claimed it had grossed $2 million at the box office. It’s a proud figure for the Met Opera, but it raises questions about the price of the cinema tickets. Watching it from the capital, Londoners paid between £30-37 for Met HD tickets, which is more than its sister opera house across the pond at London’s Covent Garden, showcasing live ballet and opera performances for £20-23.
The moment I entered Chelsea’s Curzon Cinema, the foyer was full to the brim. I haven’t experienced a sold-out Met HD event in a while especially for a cinema with a capacity of 713 seats. From the silver screens we, at the Curzon, could hear the cheering and wolf whistling from the halls of the New York Met.
It wasn’t just a first time for Grigolo and Yoncheva, even the staging was brand new and glossy. The production belongs to director David McVicar yet its designer John Macfarlane made sure the audience got exactly what they wanted — a grand, traditional setting. In an interview with The New York Times, the Met’s general manager Peter Gelb said, ‘when it comes with a classic piece of repertoire, beauty counts…’ In 2018, the Met stages Tosca in Rome’s decadent and religious centre. Set during the Napoleonic era it features a sculpture of Archangel Michael, 77 rolls of gold leaf, 1,557 square-feet of fresco and monumental Baroque church interiors. Macfarlane said 80% of the design budget was spent on costumes alone in an interview at the live HD event.
From what I could hear from the Curzon’s stereo speakers, conductor Emmanuel Villaume brought the sweet colours of Tosca and Cavaradossi’s romance to life. The surge of intense drama was tightly woven together too. The tireless Met Opera orchestra gave a well balanced reading of Puccini’s score. They neatly moved from one mood to another, from the tenderness of the lovers’ duet, the loud and bold introduction of the sadistic Scarpia and the opera’s bloody conclusion. Their performance of Te Deum with the Met’s chorus singers sent chills down my spine.
#FlashbackFriday “Now, I am playing Cavaradossi myself for the first time … I know that Luciano Pavarotti will be there, helping me from upstairs.” (@VittorioGrigolo via @Telegraph) Tosca is Live in #MetHD tomorrow, 1/27. Read more: https://t.co/w5DfYTZhxo pic.twitter.com/UKLcYP0fAm
— Metropolitan Opera (@MetOpera) January 26, 2018
Grigolo impressed the Met audience with E lucevan le stelle and Recondita armonia, which are the key arias for Tosca’s lover Cavaradossi. His volume, passion and vocal lines were strong. I’ve seen Grigolo before as Nemorino in the Royal Opera’s production of L’Elisir d’Amore in 2014 and found that he had similar traits here – a loving, caring and romantic Cavaradossi. This was most obvious in his duet with Yoncheva in the first act, both of whom have phenomenal chemistry, or, perhaps it was the cinematic haze which made the room slightly warmer. One could tell he loved every moment, living his dream and singing the same role that Pavarotti sang when he was on stage with him decades ago. However, his face appeared strained and he seemed to have difficulty singing. That said, he didn’t give up. He didn’t miss a note or falter.
The starry soprano Yoncheva, yet again, made it another memorable time at the opera. It’s hard to believe this production was her first appearance as Tosca. Her vocal performance alone sounded as if she had been singing the role for years, possibly in her bathroom shower. Whatever magic she’s been hiding up her sleeve all this time, it worked because she was ready on Saturday night. Her Tosca was attractive, playful and headstrong, which is a change from the soprano roles I’ve seen her in such Desdemona and Norma. Her show-stopping performance of Vissi d’arte shocked the audience. They loved it so much that they clapped and praised her for more than 20 seconds.
Željko Lučić‘s Scarpia was evil and intimidating, but, I can’t deny how well-suited he is for the role. He encapsulated a lecherous, almost mafia-like villain sniggering at Yoncheva’s Tosca when she begs for mercy and for Cavaradossi to be set free. Just before Tosca murders Scarpia, Lučić reminds us of Weinstein and the recent sexual allegations made against sexual predators in the entertainment industry. Tosca is willing to sacrifice her body in order to let her lover live, yet killing him allows her to keep her dignity and ensure other women won’t be assaulted by men like Scarpia. It’s a massive sacrifice. Back then there were no laws on sexual assault or rape. Today sexual assault is acknowledged as a criminal offence and yet it still happens behind closed doors.
Ever since last year, the names of the original cast kept dropping off the programme. From Jonas Kaufmann, Kristine Opolais, then her husband conductor Andrew Nelsons, James Levine, who was forced to step down by the Met after sexual assault claims were made against him, to bass-baritone Bryn Terfel. There were personal and health-related reasons for their cancellations. For its designer Macfarlane, the number of cast drop outs almost made him quit, but he admits he’s glad he didn’t leave. For all the gossip and scandalous cancellations the production was involved in at the beginning, it seems that the production wasn’t a complete disaster. In fact, it managed to survive and succeed. From the positive howling, loud applauds and standing ovations from almost everyone in the Met Opera on Saturday, the Live HD was worth the kerfuffle, after all.
— Mary Grace Nguyen (@MaryGNguyen) January 27, 2018
Tosca at the Met Opera is performing until May 12th 2018. Please check the website here, to see the cast change which includes Michael Volle, Marcelo Alvarez, Jennifer Rowley and Anna Netrebko.
The next Met HD showing is on Saturday February 10th with Donizetti L’Elisir d’Amore. Click here for more information.
More information on the set of Tosca at the Met Opera can be found here.
For the latest showings at Curzon Cinema, click here.