Composer: Giacomo Puccini
Conductor: Bertrand de Billy
Director/Producer: David McVicar
Floria Tosca: Anna Netrebko
Mario Cavaradossi: Najmiddin Mavlyanov
Baron Scarpia: Zeljko Lucic
To conclude my Met season with as big and memorable a bang as possible, I decided to go check out the irrepressible Anna Netrebko take on the role of the irrepressible Floria Tosca for the first time in her career because I figured I could hardly go wrong with those two ladies. Since this would be my second time attending the new McVicar’s production of Giacomo Puccini's "depraved" opera, which I had seen back in February with Sonya Yoncheva and Vittorio Grigolo, there would be no surprise there, but then again, I could never see Tosca too many times.
Beside Netrebko, the cast of singers would include returning Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic as Scarpia, and, instead of Marcello Alvarez, who had bailed out without an explanation, Najmiddin Mavlyanov, a young tenor from Uzbekistan who would then be making his Met debut sharing the stage with one of the opera world’s biggest stars impersonating one of the opera repertoire’s most beloved romantic characters in a sold-out house. No pressure there.
In many ways, Tosca seems like a textbook version of what an opera should be: strong characters battling out complicated emotional entanglements and, incidentally trying to save their own virtues and lives with a background of political turmoil. Naturally, the loving couple is made of a painter and a singer because artists are so much sexier, and the bad guy is the chief of police, which is decidedly less sexy, unless you're into uniforms. Each of the three characters will meet a gruesome death, but not before a lot of drama has relentlessly unfolded. All of it wrapped neatly in less than three hours, including two intermissions. No muss, no fuss.
Opera superstar Anna Netrebko is famous for her gorgeous voice, attractive physique and seemingly uncontrollable urge to storm every stage she steps on. All those qualities, of course, are particularly appropriate when it comes to Tosca, and she sure brought her A game on Tuesday night, especially in the second act where she had to be one of the most resplendent divas who have ever graced – or stormed – the Met stage. Increasingly desperate to save Cavaradossi and to keep Scarpia’s hands off of her, she managed to achieve both goals with an impressive supply of poise and stamina, and just the right amount of fretting. On the other hand, I thought that her final leap off the Castel Sant’Angelo was a bit wimpish, but that’s a minor squabble.
As Mario Cavaradossi, lover, artist and revolutionary, Najmiddin Mavlyanov brought his good looks, youthful energy and solid vocal skills to the part and easily won the audience over. It can’t be easy making one’s more or less last-minute debut in that kind of high profile production, but this was not his first Cavaradossi and the young man clearly knew what he was doing. His singing, full of passion for Tosca one minute and full of spite for Scarpia the next, easily adapted to the demands of the score, and he had an easy rapport with the other performers.
Zeljko Lucic is a familiar face to the Met audience, and it was good to see him having fun with the SOB everybody loves to hate. His ominous burnished singing and chilling demeanor did wonder conveying Scarpia’s unquenchable thirst for power and complete lack of common decency despite his aristocrat’s ways, and we wouldn’t have our Scarpia any other way.
The three sets provided the typical Met crowd with what they like best: predictability and opulence, with the slight slant of the stage adding a discreet touch of originality. Being in the family circle, as opposed to orchestra left, this time gave me a very different, more all-encompassing, view over the proceedings, and one that really made me appreciate how well put-together everything was. That said, there have to be some creative minds able to come up with something more inventive than that out there. Please let them speak up.
Puccini’s richly colorful score is generously spiked with show-stopping arias and other special musical treats such as the rousing Te Deum in the first act and the sweet shepherd boy’s song opening the third act, making it immediately engaging and constantly satisfying. And when you have a crack ensemble like the Met orchestra performing it, the result is an on-going feast for the ears. Maestro de Billy was thankfully mindful of not letting the intensity of the instruments take over the intensity of the voices too often, and a wonderful time was had by all.