New York Times, April 15, 2010
Tosca, Metropolitan Opera, 14. April 2010
Boos Become Bravos at the Met
What a difference a cast can make.
Luc Bondy’s new production of Puccini’s “Tosca,” which opened the Metropolitan Opera’s season in September, returned on Wednesday night. Yes, that production, the one with the convoluted staging that elicited vociferous boos for the creative team when it was introduced; where the lecherous Scarpia straddles a statue of the Blessed Virgin and consorts with tawdry prostitutes; where, after stabbing Scarpia, Tosca muses on a couch in his rooms at the palazzo instead of enacting the ritual of expiation with the candles and the crucifix that Puccini devised.

Yet Wednesday’s “Tosca” was one of the most exciting performances of the Met season to date, thanks to three exceptional singers, all performing their roles for the first time at the Met. Patricia Racette, an inexplicably underrated soprano, brought a richly expressive voice and raw emotion to her wrenching portrayal of Tosca. Jonas Kaufmann, currently the hottest tenor in opera, was an impetuous and vocally smoldering Mario Cavaradossi, singing with vulnerable tenderness one moment and burnished power the next. And the bass-baritone Bryn Terfel commandeered the stage with his vocally chilling and shockingly lusty Scarpia.

The conductor Fabio Luisi, replacing James Levine, who has ongoing back problems, drew a taut, surging performance from the orchestra, chorus and cast — a wonder, since in the typical ways of repertory opera houses this “Tosca” was thrown together at the last minute. Wednesday night was the first time Mr. Luisi, the orchestra and all three of his principals were together. After Mr. Luisi agreed to cover for Mr. Levine, he flew into New York for one day last week to work with the cast in a rehearsal studio. Mr. Kaufmann, nursing a bad cold, was absent that day.

Despite the lack of rehearsal this “Tosca” was riveting. Mr. Kaufmann, Ms. Racette and Mr. Terfel are gifted, compelling and intuitive actors. Their interplay — the romantic banter between Tosca and Cavaradossi, the dangerous dance of wits between Scarpia and Tosca — was so nuanced you would have thought the singers had been rehearsing for weeks.

Karita Mattila, who sang Tosca when the production was introduced, was to have returned, but she withdrew because of illness. Tosca is a recent addition to Ms. Racette’s repertory.

She does not have a glamorous voice. Her sound can have a grainy texture, and her sustained tones can be tremulous. Still, this role suits her beautifully. She sang with uncommon richness, expressivity and honesty. In the soaring phrases of “Vissi d’arte” she captured both the dignity and despair of the character: a great diva, yet a devout woman and fiercely jealous lover.

Mr. Kaufmann received frenzied bravos from the audience. His russet-colored voice has body and charisma. You could sense amazement throughout the house at his thrilling top notes during Cavaradossi’s defiant cries of “Vittoria!” Yet his plaintive pianissimo phrases were equally impressive. That the youthful, curly-haired Mr. Kaufmann is also heartthrob-handsome did not hurt.

Mr. Bondy’s production still seems drab, confused and full of gratuitous strokes geared to rattle “Tosca” devotees. But with Mr. Bondy not on the scene this cast made some crucial alterations. During the “Te Deum” Mr. Terfel’s Scarpia exuded lust and power as he fantasized about conquering Tosca. But he stopped short of the bump-and-grind routine with the Madonna. Even the idea of surrounding Scarpia briefly with three prostitutes in his chambers made somewhat more sense with this Scarpia, since the towering, robust Mr. Terfel so easily conveys bawdy physicality.

There are still no candles and crucifix. But Ms. Racette was better than Ms. Mattila at executing Mr. Bondy’s idea that for a few minutes Tosca, with Scarpia’s body nearby, is too stunned to do anything other than ponder her choices.

The individual performances were so strong I hardly noticed the elements of the production that prompted so much earlier controversy. There are seven more performances of “Tosca” this season but only three more chances to catch this outstanding cast.

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