BWW Review: The Diva Out-Divas the Diva in the Met's TOSCA
The title character in Puccini's TOSCA is the quintessential diva--a grand performer ('goddess' in Italian) who thinks the world revolves around her, particularly when it comes to her lover, painter Mario Cavaradossi. The same might be said for soprano Angela Gheorghiu, who used to be a top attraction at the Met, until cancellations and other prima donna-ish actions saw her fall from favor, despite her fine singing and acting skills. Well, she came back for two performances of her well-traveled (and -received) Floria Tosca and the result was, well, disappointing.
Gheorghiu certainly looked the part (did she bring her own costumes?), glamorous and dressed to the nines, although she was forever fiddling with the train of her dress in Act II, as if she thought she would trip. By the fifth time she did it, it was absurd. In short, she was mannered to the Nth degree, to a point that she frequently seemed to think she was the only one on stage.
She might have been forgiven for these shenanigans if her singing were better. I had high hopes, after hearing her wonderful performance of "Ebben, ne andro lontana" from LA WALLY at the Richard Tucker Gala the previous night. But here, her very first call of "Mario, Mario, Mario" from off stage was underpowered and she remained so for much of Act I, particularly noticeable when tenor Roberto Aronica was singing. He's a bull of a singer, with little finesse but lots of voice, giving a performance that might have worked better with a different soprano. But she never seemed unbearably in love with him--only a woman with her own agenda--and that upsets the balance of the opera.
Her singing did improve in Act II, with a purely sung "Vissi d'arte." Yet, even here she was off on her own--with the aria performed as a kind of interior monologue, while the evil police chief, Baron Scarpia, sung by baritone Zeljko Lucic, lay on a coach, looking off into space, with no notice of her. Lucic is a good actor--his Macbeth was a stunning success--and was properly creepy in this unusually crass setting of the opera, but most of his interactions with Tosca were less than mesmerizing, save "Già - Mi dicon venal," reminiscent of his "Credo" in this season's OTELLO. (Ah, for the potent Tosca of Eva Marton, singing "Vissi d'Arte" with a dislocated jaw thanks to the overactive baritone Juan Pons!)
The supporting cast did well, from the sweet boy soprano of Daniel Katzman as the Shepherd in Act III to the fearless bass of Richard Bernstein as Angelotti, from the jovial bass-baritone John Del Carlo as the Sacristan to tenor Tony Stevenson and bass-baritone James Courtney as the repulsive minions of Scarpia.
This is one of those operas that the Met Orchestra can play in its sleep and, under Italian conductor Paolo Carignani (subbing for Placido Domingo), they held things together, though sometimes the odd phrasing of Gheorghiu made it more of a challenge.
As for the production by Luc Bondy--call it the "anti-Zeffirelli," the Met's previous TOSCA, which had realistic settings and seeming cast of thousands. Bondy opted for a downscale version, which is certainly a valid option under the right circumstances. Sometimes this production works better than others, depending on the cast, particularly in Act II, with its lewd posturing by prostitutes and Scarpia, and its ugly Communist-era design for the Farnese Palace. This was not one of those times. The only thing that looked different this time was Tosca's leap from Castel Sant'Angelo at the finale, which previously had an unconvincing scarecrow-like dummy thrust out on a pole immediately before a blackout. This time, there seemed to have been a body double involved--or was it just the ghost of better Met Toscas past?