Critic loves opera, trashes public!

(This is a quick translation of the Le Monde critic who wrote about the New York Met “Tosca” in today’s edition. Any mistakes are my own.)

Finally, for Peter Gelb, director of the Metropolitan Opera of New York since 2006, it is the first season where he will have programmed the entire season; a season of novelty (nine new productions, a figure not seen since 1966) and audacity since it brings to New York European opera directors who have never staged an opera there, notably Patrice Chéreau and Luc Bondy.

Tosca (1900), of Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), staged by Luc Bondy, and presented Monday September 21, in gala evening in front of an upper-crust parterre (where fur coats, haute couture and nose remakes abound), took a terrible turn: a vindictive boo screamed from the bottom of the stomach by a furious public that has been deprived of “their” Tosca. The one that it see since 1985 on stage at the Met, concocted by the French Italian Zeffirelli. The public of the Met, at least the thundering majority, wants a Tosca in CinémaScope, with their baroque church to the first act, their Farnèse Palace to the second one and, in the third one, their Castle San Angelo, with an unrestricted view on Saint Peter’s and the Vatican.

It is to be feared that many among the spectators present never visited Rome, read the book of Luigi Illica and the piece of Victorian Sardou (available on Those offended want a Tosca in accordance with their fantasy, and some want it for their money.

It is true that the production of Zeffirelli (1 DVD Deutsche Grammophon) is the exact opposite of Bondy and of his inspired decorator, Richard Peduzzi. Contrasting with the visual debauchery of the Italian and his orange sunrise in Act III in particular, Bondy preferred a simple tower and a sky of an opaque blue gray, the complexion of the soul and despair of the condemned. It especially transcribed the exact color, sad and sinister, as does the orchestra of Puccini at the death bells that announces the execution of Cavaradossi, this color that the libretto describes as “an uncertain and gray light.”

The problem is here: too often the opera public takes false traditions for first truths and confuses abusive readings (they abound, it is true, on the lyric scenes) with respect for the original words. You could see spectators offended that Tosca, in Act II, sings her famous aria “Vissi d’arte” on a sofa. But the libretto says “Tosca falls overwhelmed on the couch.”

One could feel a wave of indignant surprise when, in Act II of this production, the 19th Century clothes and Art Deco furnishings suggested, with elegance and discretion, that Scarpia, the police boss, had some common traits with a certain Il Duce… Is it unfounded to show him with three prostitutes when he says, literally, that he wants to intoxicate himself with wine and of women and also that Sardou denounces, in his work, the morals of this “repugnant satyr”, bloody even in his orgies?

The public found timely supporters for Zeffirelli who, without having seen the spectacle, expressed themselves that afternoon on the Internet site of the New York Times (“Arts Beat”), ridiculing this “new idiotic manner to approach” Puccini and qualifying Luc Bondy as a “director, not of the second, but of the third order.” Even worse, certain in the board of directors found it offensive when Scarpia kisses the Virgin Mary at the end of Act I… Atmosphere, atmosphere.

Nevertheless, this spectacle is the one of the (rare) incarnations of what can be an evening of perfect opera: the direction of fine actors that imposes nothing on the singers but organizes their liberty differently; a setting of an austere beauty which breathes, where the monumentality does not block the qualities of acoustic reverberation; a conductor, James Levine, that does not confuse experience and routine (he directed his first Tosca at the Met in 1971), calm and boredom, voluptuousness and debauchery; an orchestra of which there is not an equivalent in the world in precision and in subtlety, and a dream cast: a Tosca more atypical but young, ardent, incarnated by Karita Mattila that reaches even to its vocal limits (in the aigu) for dramatic qualities, a tenor, Marcelo Alvarez, that maybe is the most beautiful in this type of work (he will be André Chénier at the Opera of Paris in December), and a baritone, George Gagnidze, a Scarpia dark and glacial, again unknown but who promises to be an immense singer.

Is it the turn of Patrice Chéreau and his “From the House of the Dead,” of Leos Janacek in November at the Met to fall in the stew? If so, it would be time to give up hope for the New York public.

Renaud Machart


One Response to “Critic loves opera, trashes public!”

  1. Antonio Maynegra Says:

    First of all the American public is different from the European public, their
    historical experiences have been different and so its their opinions about
    many different subjects, politically….and artistically. So we have the
    right to want a more conservative and “old fashioned” approach to opera.
    The last Ring done at the Met brought full planes of people from Europe
    for years to watch this production; tired of the “modern” “artisitc” new
    approach from Bayreuth productions. The French have allways suffered
    from the delusion that they are the cream of the cream in Art..etc etc..
    Well my dear french people wake up! your 15 minutes of fame are over,
    your language is no longer the world chosen language..its english and
    not necceserally from UK. Opera was written with specific music, sets and
    movements by the composers, and sometimes the time period can be
    changed to “modernized” the opera which can be tolerated as long as it
    doesnt change the original conception of the composer; if Puccini had
    wanted prostitutes in the second act he would have expressed so in his
    plot, but he didnt so you has the right to change this basic plot? I believe
    nobody..We dont tell you how to do your operas in France…do whatever
    you want there, after all the Paris Opera doesnt have the artistic level of
    the Met..a singer has made it when he makes it to the Met not to the Paris
    opera , and the public has the right to express like or dislike for anything
    presented to them specially if you have to pay for put all this in
    your pipe and smoke it!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: