Review: “Tosca” catches fire at the Met Opera
Sometimes, for reasons that no one can fully explain, an opera performance simply catches fire. This is what happened at the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday, when Puccini’s “Tosca” returned.
In a drop at the Met that was full of momentous new works, intriguing repertoire firsts, and six-hour epics, it seemed on paper just an ordinary cover of David McVicar’s production. Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky returned in the title role; tenor Brian Jagde was performing at the Met for the second time, singing Cavaradossi; veteran baritone George Gagnidze (a late replacement for Evgeny Nikitin) was Scarpia; and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the musical director of the Met, was in the pit.
Yet, starting with the opening bars, spooky orchestral chords that portray villainous Scarpia, this performance is bursting with crackling energy, self-assured suspense, romantic reverie, and thrilling vocals from Radvanovsky and Jagde.
It is Nézet-Séguin who seems to inspire these formidable singers and the orchestra. On Monday, the Met announced that he was withdrawing from a January tour of Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” and that he was taking a nearly four-week sabbatical from his directorship, including his directorship. the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Nézet-Séguin maintained a busy schedule this fall, notably with Met broadcasts of two demanding contemporary works, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” and “Eurydice”; in the ad he said he needed time to “re-energize”. Although it was a worrying decision, and it’s disappointing to lose him for “Figaro”, if a short break allows him to continue to summon the kind of energy he had for “Tosca”, while he so be it.
He didn’t bring an unusual interpretive approach to Puccini’s familiar score. He simply led a splendid performance: rhythmically crisp, transparent, textured and colorful. While giving the singers room for expressive expression, he maintained form and direction and favored a slightly faster rhythm than usual. When, in Act I, Cavaradossi, trying to allay the suspicions of her jealous lover, turns to Tosca with a lyrical impulse that begins their duet, Jagde and Radvanovsky sing with a lot of melting lyricism. However, what a pleasure to hear the music – thanks to the subtle mastery of Nézet-Séguin – performed with a clear pulse, in a tempo that does not allow any indulgence.
Radvanovsky was extraordinary. Like Maria Callas, perhaps the Tosca who defines the 20th century, she uses the slightly grainy quality of her sound for exciting dramatic purposes. His recital of the open air “Vissi d’arte” was both intensely anguished and disproportionately beautiful. The standing ovation lasted for so long that it looked like Radvanovsky might be forced to break the character and recognize him. But not this Tosca. One of the best actresses in opera, she made the character her own with touching touches – flirtatious and playful one moment, fearful and anguished the next.
In Jagde, she had a tenor that could match her rising power. It’s hard to believe he spent almost 10 years early in his career as baritone. On Thursday, his huge, vibrant voice was topped with exciting top notes. Every now and then I wanted a little more subtlety and elegance. But it’s hard to complain when you have a singer with such a big and beefy instrument.
Gagnidze played the role of Scarpia, conveying the character’s malevolence but also his aristocratic disdain. Patrick Carfizzi as Sacristan, Kevin Short as Angelotti and Tony Stevenson as Spoletta were all excellent.
There’s only four other performances this month with Radvanovsky, Jagde and Nézet-Séguin. When the word spreads, banknotes can be scarce.
Until December 18 with this cast (and in January and March with different artists) at the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan; metopera.org.