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06 April, 2011

Tosca. Monday 4th April 2011. Metropolitan Opera.

Tosca. Puccini. Monday 4th April 2011. Metropolitan Opera.

Dear Colleagues,

I enjoyed this production which is updated to the 1920s but still seems to ‘work’ in most every respect.

Violetta Urmana is now clearly a soprano, having done some ‘in between’ roles like Santuzza and Kundry. She did a most creditable Princess Eboli a few years back with Rolando Villazon in Amsterdam (available on DVD). On this occasion she sang Tosca, a dramatic soprano role. She was magnificent in this rather up-dated and somewhat controversial production. Her ‘Vissi d’arte’ was splendid. Rather than singing, she spoke her lines after killing Scarpia: “E avanti a lui tremava tutta Roma”.

Salvatore Licitra did a grand Cavaradossi, letting loose on all the top notes as well as putting in all the most delicate shadings to his legato singing.

James Morris is one of the few survivors of the ‘golden age’ and yet he can still pull it out of the bag for Scarpia. I was concerned as he had some ugly exposed notes early on with a wide wobbly beat, yet he reined it in and sang large and loud, as becomes the evil Rome Chief of Police.

Angelotti was played by Richard Bernstein who was also excellent. At the start, after a spotlight flashes around the darkened interior of the church annex, his appearance was from a high portcullis whence he descended by a thick rope to the stage floor only to walk through a side chapel and reappear to start the action of the opera. I had it pointed out to me that in fact it was clearly a ‘double’ who shinnied down that rope. This was revealed by a visiting Australian soprano we happened to meet at intermission (New York is teeming with Aussies at present). We were told that singers just hate doing that sort of thing. She and her partner were also mightily impressed with the Met goings on and were only disappointed to have missed Rheingold, saying ‘you had to kill someone’ to get a ticket (I know I was lucky, having booked some months ago). I should point out that Angelotti somehow managed to pull his rope free from the ground, a boy-scout trick I was never taught.

I was also concerned about the soprano’s final leap which did not come off as planned. From my seat I was able to see the soprano still standing on the stairs as a mannequin or stunt person leapt out into thin air (and a safety net) as the lights blacked out at the end of the drama. I think that maybe Luc Bondy wanted the mannequin thrown off the high turret into the oblivion but the management may have thought that their audience were not ready for that. Certainly many would have been deeply shocked and some might have thought to call the ambulance. Also, here in New York there are still too many memories of 9/11. I was also surprised that there were no stars for ‘E lucevan le stelle’, at least not from where I was sitting.

Despite these small production criticisms, another staggeringly exciting night at the Met.

Comments by Andrew Byrne .. (pinching myself to a bruise).