Associated Press, April 15, 2010
Tosca, Metropolitan Opera, 14. April 2010
New cast enlivens Met's reviled 'Tosca'

NEW YORK — The boos heard 'round the world on opening night were mostly gone as "Tosca" reappeared at the Metropolitan Opera with a new cast that turned Puccini's melodrama into a feast of great singing.

Credit for that goes chiefly to German tenor Jonas Kaufmann as the idealistic painter Mario Cavaradossi, and Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel as the evil police chief, Baron Scarpia.

Both were making their first appearances at the Met in more than two years on Wednesday night, and both have been sorely missed.

Kaufmann has blossomed from a fine lyric tenor into something more. With his dark-hued voice and formidable technique he now apparently can sing Wagner, Verdi, Puccini and French opera with equal flair.

As Cavaradossi, he displayed the heroic top notes required to turn his defiant cry of "Vittoria!" in Act 2 and his Act 3 aria, "E lucevan le stelle" ("And the stars were shining") into show-stoppers. Equally impressive was the ravishing tenderness he brought to many soft phrases, such as "O dolci mani" ("O sweet hands"), when he sings in wonderment that his beloved Tosca has stabbed Scarpia to death.

That murder takes place at the end of Act 2, and until his demise, Terfel etched a portrayal of tremendous power. The sheer amplitude of his sound has always been thrilling, riding easily over the orchestra during moments like the Act 1 "Te deum," where most bass-baritones struggle to be heard.

But Terfel has so much more to offer. He can turn the merest whisper into a bloodcurdling threat, or casually create chills as when he invites Tosca to enjoy a sip of Spanish wine to calm her nerves before he plans to rape her.

If the title character herself has been left for last, it's not any fault of American soprano Patricia Racette. She delivered a fine, forthright performance, more down-to-earth and less the prima donna than many Toscas. Aside from a rushed high note and some pitch problems at the end of her aria, "Vissi d'arte" ("I lived for art"), she sang the part extremely well. Still, her overall impact paled a bit next to the high-powered performances of the men.

The production by French director Luc Bondy has been modified since it opened the season to the loudest booing in Met memory — a reception that created headlines worldwide. Scarpia no longer lasciviously embraces the statue of the Madonna at the end of Act 1. Tosca no longer fans herself while casually reclining on a sofa after murdering Scarpia.

A technical glitch made it appear another effect had been dropped. At the very end, Tosca is supposed to leap to her death off the prison battlements where her lover has just been executed. Bondy has a body double jump from a parapet and hang by wires over the stage. But the lights went out too soon, and she jumped in darkness.

There were still a few boos at the final curtain, but cheers for the singers drowned them out. The cheers were also loud for conductor Fabio Luisi, who led a sweeping, tense account of a score that can sound merely melodramatic.

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