BWW Review: TOSCA at The Metropolitan Opera

BWW Review: TOSCA at The Metropolitan OperaDavid McVicar's pretty, but pretty boring production of Tosca which debuted last season returned to the repertory Thursday night. It is not likely to offend anyone, but it is also not likely to set anyone on fire. The absurdly raked stage, the raging fireplace in the summer, and the bright sunshine that streams through the windows of the Farnese Palace all night are all still there. Shooting for the middle (and hitting it) the Met has a production that is neither as ravishing as the Zeffirelli nor as menacing as the Bondy, but one that will in all likelihood be around for a long time.

The problem with this logic is manifest: the Met has long survived on the box office appeal of the fabulous Zeffirelli productions - irrespective of the caliber of the casts inhibiting them (it was a VERY rare occasion to see big box office singers in any of the Puccini big three: Butterfly, Boheme, Tosca) This production is nowhere near the Zeffirelli in terms of sheer beauty and is unlikely to draw crowds (or applause) on its own.

American soprano Sondra Radvanovski took on the role of the Roman diva once before at the Met with success, but without distinguishing herself in the role. This time out, she threw herself into a no-holds-barred interpretation with much better results. Radvanovski has an interesting voice. Her low end and mid-range are warm and round, but her high end has always had a slight rough hewn edge to it that can often sound quite shrill. This quality was on significant display last season in her much heralded interpretation of Norma. The orchestration of Tosca is much more dense and full than the Bellini and offers a great deal of cover for sopranos. Thus, for most of the evening Radvanovski was able to luxuriate in the waves of velvety colors that Maestro Carlo Rizzi drew forth from the orchestra. However, the few exposed high notes in the score still had that grainy quality to them that prevented the moments from being truly magical.

BWW Review: TOSCA at The Metropolitan Opera

Ms. Radvanovski looked and acted appropriately glamorous - but without the fussiness of some Toscas. Her jealous taunting of Cavaradossi was delightfully playful and not overly regal or shrewish. This quality served her well later as she revealed herself especially vulnerable to Scarpia's sadistic wiles.

Ms. Radvanovski steered clear of any scenery-chewing histrionics and brought a level of honesty of character not always present in operatic melodrama. McVicar's ham-handed direction offered her little help as the pacing of the well-know and well-worn story just never seemed smooth. For example, after Scarpia's murder, Tosca's placing of the candlesticks and praying over his dead body should be a powerful and chilling moment, but it looked more like an afterthought (just as it did last season with a different Tosca). Of course the measure of any Tosca is her "Vissi d'arte" and Ms. Radvanovski did not disappoint. She delivered the aria with equal measures of dignity and despair, and her rich midrange glowed ravishingly throughout.

Pure tonal beauty was not the chief quality in either of the male leads. Both Joseph Calleja as Cavaradossi and Zeljko Lucic as Scarpia sang much more powerfully than beautifully. The steely-edged brightness of Calleja's high notes lacked the color of his low and midrange, particularly in "Recondita armonia." He warmed up as the night rolled forward but even his third act aria suffered from a harshness in the high end. His overall vocal performance was strong, after settling in, but his acting was no match for Ms. Radvanovski and he appeared wooden next to her full blooded theatricality.

BWW Review: TOSCA at The Metropolitan Opera

Mr. Lucic was a replacement - but a very pleasant one. His Scarpia is brutal and savage not soave or sexy (Ed.note: I can't remember the last Met Scarpia that didn't play the role as a purely evil one. A few years ago, Sam Ramey, James Morris and especially Sherrill Milnes, brought far more nuance to the character, making him almost appealing in his treachery. The quintessential sexy villain.) Mr. Lucic's Scarpia is the very embodiment of evil and his hulking and menacing presence is reflected both in his acting and his singing.

Mr. Rizzi returned to the Met last season after a prolonged absence and did a marvelous job with Norma (ironically with Ms. Radvanovski and Mr. Calleja in the leads as well!). His Tosca was sumptuous but always well-balanced and often overpowering. In the "Te Deum" at the end of Act One, the chorus was not together and at its conclusion, the orchestra completely buried Mr. Lucic (no mean feat given the size of his voice.) Overall, the orchestra played beautifully for him, revealing an almost symphonic richness to the score.

This was not a Tosca for the ages, but it was a very good and entertaining one, and the audience on opening night went positively bonkers for all three leads and rewarded them with standing ovations and multiple curtain calls.

- Peter Danish

Photos: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

TOSCA runs through Nov. 17th this year then it returns with a new cast in the spring. Curtain times vary; complete schedule here. Running time: 2 hours and 53 minutes, with two intermissions.

Tickets begin at $25; for prices, more information, or to place an order, please call (212) 362-6000 or visit www.metopera.org. Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available by calling (212) 341-5410 or visiting www.metopera.org/groups.

Same-day $25 rush tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis on the Met's Web site. Tickets will go on sale for performances Monday-Friday at noon, matinees four hours before curtain, and Saturday evenings at 2pm. For more information on rush tickets, click here.

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From This Author Peter Danish

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