The Met and the Bayerische Staatsoper might not have much in common but one thing they do is a certain Luc Bondy production of Tosca, hated just as much by the Müncheners as the New Yorkers. I was going to skip it but upon further reflection decided that missing a Bryn Terfel Scarpia would be a crime. So I got a ticket but being tardy it was one that afforded almost no view of the stage. While I love seeing Terfel ham it up, considering the imbecility of this production I do not consider this as great a loss as usual. I cannot offer you any assessment as to how the set looks on the smaller stage of the Nationaltheater, whether Scarpia groped the Madonna or simply flipped her off, or what attitude Tosca assumed while fanning herself at the close of Act 2 (um, for a production we all think is awful, this one has developed quite a few iconic moments, hasn’t it? just saying…). Here’s what I wrote about this production when I last saw it at the Met. In relation to tonight, let’s talk about the singing!
Marco Armiliato conducts Tosca with the verve of a lukewarm glass of beer. He keeps things together and this was a fairly clean reading, except for almost losing the chorus just before Scarpia’s Act 1 entrance. It unfolds nicely in lyrical sections but in the exciting bits it never rises to the occasion, lacking intensity, drama, and weight. The brass played with laser-bright tone that wasn’t my favorite color, but the strings had a nice depth to their tone in the introduction to “E lucevan le stelle.” But how can one of the most perfectly paced of all operas feel so slack and matter of fact?
Luckily the cast had two excellent singers. Catherine Naglestad is a fine Tosca. Her sound is big and just on this side of being blowsy, with a wide vibrato that sometimes turns dry. While she doesn’t have a lot of variations of color, her duskiness feels just right for this role and her top notes are easy and reliable. (Her chest voice, however, is a little funky, not the best thing for a Tosca.) Most importantly, she sings with refined and yet natural musicality, making a grand and impressive, yet still expressive Tosca. Her “Vissi d’arte” had a lovely swell on the final note and an expertly tapered quiet ending. As Scarpia, Bryn Terfel was his usual self, this portrayal is by this point well known. His voice can turn rough and barky at patches, hurting him most in the opening of Act 2, which sounded ragged. But in the declamatory passages his voice is imposing and firm, and he relishes the evil with audible (as I could not, for the most part, see him) glee.
Workmanlike lyric tenor Massimo Giordano sounded overextended as Cavaradossi, and despite generally singing on pitch with acceptable sound his too-small voice and relentlessly flat-footed, unnuanced phrasing kept his Mario from ever developing into an audible character. He has a habit of approaching high notes from a running start of a third or so below, sliding up to the actual pitch (even on Vittoria!), which I assume is supposed to be stylistic, probably also is a technical aid, and definitely is irritating. The smaller roles found the Staatsoper’s usual solid Slavic-tending crew, notably Goran Juric a well-projected Angelotti.
I can offer a few random notes on the staging. The jump at the end was timed better that I have seen it at the Met, but that blackout has to be much blacker for it to be convincing. When the victory cantata’s Starbesetzung is announced in Act 1, the Munich children yelp “BRAVO!” while the New York ones go “OOOOO!” Also, Mario’s painting, in classic Bay Staats fashion, appears to be a blotchy impressionistic rendering of the same image that appeared in New York in far more realistic form. Can’t keep a creative scenic artist down.
Absent some star casting, I’m hoping not to see this particular Tosca again anytime soon.
Puccini, Tosca. Bayerische Staatsoper, 7/24/2012.
Musikalische Leitung Marco Armiliato
Inszenierung Luc Bondy
Bühne Richard Peduzzi
Kostüme Milena Canonero
Licht Michael Bauer
Chor Stellario Fagone
Floria Tosca Catherine Naglestad
Mario Cavaradossi Massimo Giordano
Baron Scarpia Bryn Terfel
Cesare Angelotti Goran Jurić
Der Mesner Christoph Stephinger
Spoletta Francesco Petrozzi
Sciarrone Christian Rieger
Stimme eines Hirten Tölzer Knabenchor
Ein Gefängniswärter Tim Kuypers