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Monday, October 12, 2009

Drive-By Tosca Review

Just a few words on the new, already discussed-to-death Met Tosca, as viewed at this weekend's HD broadcast.

First: the cast was superb. It was a pleasure to watch Gadnidze dart his eyes like a good old silent-movie villain, and he was in fine voice as Scarpia. Álvarez was a warm and charming Cavaradossi, and he died great too—his "Whuh-oh, REAL bullets?" moment was heartbreaking. But Mattila TORE IT UP in the title role. She's got that bit of rasp up high, but she was convincingly hot-blooded and, in the second act, desperate as the diva, with a nice bite to her tone in all the right places. I'm gonna go ahead and dismiss all this "she's not a Tosca."

At the second interval, she thanked Bondy profusely for helping her create such a natural performance. It was true that some of her business was very well-thought-out: her embrace of Cavaradossi towards the end of their first scene together was elegant and stirring; when she began Vissi d'arte it was clear from her body language that we were watching a wreck of a woman. (There were a few unintentional giggles—when La Mattila briefly fumbled the knife, her comic timing was accidentally perfect, and titters went through the audience; there was another whoopsish laugh, but I forget what it was. Tosca's "stage directions" for Cavaradossi, on the other hand, were a moment of genuine, poignant comic relief.) Throughout, the drama was smartly matched to the score.

The sets were ugly. I love a simple design, I've seen some very spare productions that are nevertheless very attractive, and I appreciate that—esp. "in this economy"—opera is an expensive proposition, but at least on camera, the whole thing looked not so much "spare" or "elegant" as "cheap." The first and last acts were shrouded in darkness, which was dramatic but didn't register well on camera and was ultimately frustrating.

I thought the presence of the hos in the second act was a missed opportunity. If they'd seemed broken or frightened, like real women who'd been pressured into white slavery (Scarpia's favored seduction technique, as he makes clear in that scene) (also, can I even say "white slavery"?), it would've fit in better with his character and the scene and made his confrontation of Tosca that much more disturbing, and it would've seemed less like a bit of gratuitous flesh. As it was, they looked like happy sexual objects, from a Hollywood movie or gangsta rap video, maybe in it for the shoes.

But I thought the criticisms of the end of the second act were definitely too harsh. Again, we were watching a woman at the end of her rope; by foreshadowing the seizing of the dagger and the final suicide leap, Bondy really did accomplish his stated goal of taking the rhythms of melodrama out of the narrative—those crazy bootleg turns the plot takes into murder and suicide—and made it into something more reflective and psychological. One thing I haven't heard anybody point out is that Tosca, after contemplating suicide, sits down on the couch the murderous Scarpia was in when she sang Vissi d'arte, and he is of course slumped in front of the couch that she was in. It's a clever director's way of pointing out that the sainted Tosca has become a killer, and the self-styled predator has become the prey. And when she fans herself—well, of course, a lady's fan is an essential prop in Act 1; that's a good callback, and (again) shows the reversal of Scarpia's movement from (again) self-styled Iago to the victim of a crime of passion.

Finally, the Leap. I thought the special effect came off very well, much better (so I hear) than it did at the prima. I heard a low murmur from the crowd at my screening, so I think they were with me, although the "COME GET SOME" gesture on the way up the steps was a grossly miscalculated bit of business. Kung Fu Tosca? No.

All in all, my impression was overwhelmingly positive. I spoke to about six different people at the screening, four of them strangers, and the only one who disliked the production was my own friend, a die-hard connoisseur. The opera newbies were all crazy for it, and with good reason. The production packs a visceral punch, and the performers were a huge amount of fun to see and hear.

What else... I have to admit I wasn't paying much attention to the orchestra, though I thought the soloists nailed it. And uhhhhh get well, Jimmy!! Okay bye.

2 comments:

Michael Greenebaum said...

Bravo! I agree with your comments almost entirely. It was a great show. The whores were the only miscalculation; Scarpia would not have been interested in "easy" women, as he himself explains. I would also underscore everything you say about Mattila as an actor. I wonder if those who were so negative would have responded differently if they saw the close-ups that we in the cinemas experienced.

Michael

Grrg said...

Kung Fu Tosca YES.