Sunday, October 4, 2009

Close Your Eyes

Composed by Giacomo Puccini
Directed by Luc Bondy
Conducted by Joseph Colaneri
Starring Karita Mattila, Marcelo Álvarez, George Gagnidze, Paul Plishka

The Metropolitan Opera
Performances on September 21, 24, 28, October 3, 6, 10, 14, 17, 2009
(more performances in April and May 2010)

I must admit I was disappointed that, after hearing about Luc Bondy’s desecration of Puccini’s Tosca, seeing that his production isn’t the Eurotrash extravaganza everyone was booing on Opening Night. That’s too bad, for although Bondy’s conception of the opera has about as much vision as that of a man driving through a downpour with no windshield wipers, his mistakes are more an insufficient imagination than outright blasphemy. For Bondy has transformed Tosca into its opposite, considering its music and story: unsexy, undramatic and unthrilling.

Bondy has not fiddled with the very specific settings of the tale of the diva-ish singer Floria Tosca, her lover the painter Cavaradossi, and their nemesis, the prudish chief of police Scarpia. Puccini’s three acts are in definite locales: the interior of the Sant'Andrea della Valle church where Cavaradossi is painting a portrait of Mary Magdalene; Scarpia’s room in the Palazzo Farnese, where he tortures the painter and is killed by Tosca; and the Castel Sant’Angelo, where Cavaradossi is executed and Tosca leaps to her death.

Bondy and Richard Peduzzi’s sets are the last word in vagueness: the Act I church could be in Cleveland, Scarpia’s office looks like any bureaucrat’s office and the castle resembles the exterior of Act I’s church. If Bondy meant to deglamorize the locations to emphasize the banality of evil theme, then it’s something that’s at odds with this particular opera—and further muting Milena Canonero’s dull costumes and Max Keller’s routine lighting is also to the production’s detriment.

Bondy does little with the three main characters, as ripe and juicily dramatic as any in all of opera. He essentially leaves Tosca and Cavaradossi alone, turning his attention to Scarpia as a caricatured bad guy, as if he was in a Mafia movie. The appearance of three courtesans pleasuring the chief during his Act II aria, “Ha più forte sapore,” might be distantly related to his mindset (he’s anticipating Tosca’s appearance), but it’s an unnecessarily explicit underlining and a vulgar gesture. The bare-breasted Magdalene painting in Act I is no big deal, since so many artworks of that time looked like that, but again it’s a needless cheap shot.

Musically, Tosca is on firmer ground. Conductor Joseph Colaneri (for the indisposed James Levine) capably led the superb Met Orchestra in the a lush account of Puccini’s glorious score. As Scarpia, Carlo Guelfi filled in for George Gagnidze with a solidly villainous portrayal, while Carlos Álvarez easily hit the high notes in Cavaradossi’s more animated moments, but otherwise his characterization was mostly wooden. Finnish superstar soprano Karita Mattila was an intense and passionate Tosca, and if her singing was sometimes problematic, she hit her stride during Tosca’s full-blooded, emotional outbursts, something Bondy was not able to bring down to his otherwise pedestrian level, fortunately.
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