The Metropolitan Opera’s new “
” which opened on New Year’s Eve, was intended as a corrective. In 2009, for the opening night of
fourth season as general manager, the company replaced its beloved 1985
production, a lavish, hyper-realistic depiction of the opera, with a stark, minimalist, more sexually explicit version directed by
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
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
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
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.
as Tosca and
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,
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. Lučić’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 hand.
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.
—Ms. Waleson writes about opera for the Journal.