Just Fifteen Months Later.

We have been watching, with some amusement, New York critics deal with the new-to-them innovative stagings of opera which have been around Europe for decades are have now started arriving at the Metropolitan Opera. They have made a 180 degree turn since their lame reaction to Luc Bondy’s Tosca in September 2009.

The New York Times critic Tommasini still won’t admit he botched it. In this week’s review praising the new La Traviata – a much more radical treatment of a classic – he went out of his way to backhand the Tosca, linking it in his Traviata review with the phrase “Luc Bondy’s gratuitously modern and lame staging.” You can click on the link and read the review. This “characterization” does not appear in his September 2009 review. He doesn’t say anything about it being “gratuitously modern” – whatever that means – and lame does not appear as a concept. Here is most of what he said in September 2009:
“Still, the booing, if a little unfair, was understandable. Mr. Bondy’s high-concept staging featured stark, spare, cold sets and dispensed entirely with many of the familiar theatrical touches that audiences count on: Tosca placed no candles by the body of the villain Scarpia after murdering him, and did not exactly leap to her death at the
“Mr. Bondy is a substantive creative artist with a long record of achievement in the theater and the opera house, mostly in Europe. And the idea of bringing a sacred-cow-skewering perspective to “Tosca” is fine in principle. Turning this favorite over to an avant-garde director represents a bigger risk for the Met than does the company
premiere of Janacek’s bleak “From the House of the Dead,” which comes in November. But “Tosca” is one of the bread-and-butter works of any opera company…”

OK, got it. Something with “Dead” in the title can be allowed an “original” reading, but Tosca has to be a sunny pageant with all cliches intact. But Tommasini’s review was actually one of the more thoughtful, wondering whether New York audiences were ready for such “sacred-cow-skewering” which they, at the time, were emphatically not.

James Jorden, in the New York Post, was red-faced and huffing: “Bondy downplayed the glamour to evoke the horrors of torture as an interrogation technique.” Even if Jorden shares George Bush’s sunny view of torturing techniques, he still missed the “glamour” of the story, never bothering to do a body count at the end. “But Tosca is no highbrow psychological study – its an operatic slasher movie,” he concludes, astonished than anyone could have a differing view.
Now both he, Tommasini and the rest of the pack are going on at some length about Willy Decker’s five-year-old Traviata as a “highbrow psychological study.” Tommasini: “This is an involving and theatrically daring production that belongs at the Met.” Jorden’s analysis of Traviata on his Musical American blog is particularly interesting and thoughtful. What a difference fifteen months makes!


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