This review is for the performance on Friday, January 12th, 2018.
In keeping with the spirit of verismo, Metropolitan Opera’s production of “Tosca” offered one of the most realistic portrayals of Puccini’s celebrated work. The set may as well have been a window to another time thanks to the care taken by the creative team headed by John Macfarlane. As splendidly as the stage was set, it would not shine as it did without the heart and soul of the performers to light it up and Friday’s cast did not disappoint.
A Breath of Fresh Air
What a breath of fresh air just one change can make to an entire production.
In the role of Tosca, Jennifer Rowley exuded allure from the start, purring out the third “Mario!” before her entrance in a way that spoke volumes of her relationship with Cavaradossi. Rowley molded her fiery passion to suit Tosca’s changing mood, using it at one moment to warm and in the next to burn. While the emotion behind her actions felt genuine, certain directions seemed arbitrary, such as when she angrily pulled the cloth from Cavaradossi’s painting to reveal the face of the Marchesa Attavanti. Having just been soothed from the previous song, it lessened the impact to be angered seconds before seeing the face of her lover’s suspected fling.
True to Tosca form, Rowley was back to channeling flirtatious charm after singing “Qual occhio” as she, paintbrush in hand, threatened to paint the eyes darker. In Act two, all her tenderness was turned to torment at the hands of Zeljko Lucic’s Baron Scarpia. Each utterance of “Non posso più” bore changing inflection that emphasized she was well past her breaking point. When it came time for her to sing “Vissi d’arte” after suffering the forceful groping of Scarpia, Rowley languished in her rendition, holding the words of the closing phrase like a prayer on a dying breath and earning the extended applause that followed. All this made for a satisfying murder of Scarpia, although I found myself asking if a second stab, delivered after circling around the dinner table, was necessary; given that the first stab seemed to land below the heart and between the ribs, that should have been enough to put down almost anyone via a punctured lung or at least a ruptured artery. I chalked that up to Lucic having strong lungs. Despite Scarpia being dead, Tosca’s suffering was far from over; the shriek she unleashed after realizing Cavaradossi had truly been shot sounded like the shattering of all remaining hope.
This was Rowley’s only performance of the role at the Met this season, and on the strength of this performance, she probably should have gotten either more performances or the entire run.
A Man Possessed… By Love
Vittorio Grigolo as Mario Cavaradossi was both suave and spirited. This was a man in love and not afraid of hiding it, as shown by his rendition of “Recondita armonia” which displayed his vocal ability to fill the house. Though this made for no trouble hearing him, there were certain moments where it seemed less-than-fitting, such as his cry of “Victoria!” which was delivered after dragging himself off the floor following his torture. Speaking of torture, it’s worth mention that as Cavaradossi wailed off-screen, there was one instance where the more-operatic cries were pierced by one gut-wrenching scream truly appropriate for one with a ring of spikes tightening on their head.
His delivery in “E lucevan le stelle” was poignant; although this is an aria of reminiscence, Grigolo was carried about the stage by these memories before finally collapsing in anguish, where he was met with great applause. Though this aria was well-received, I believe that by taking the chance to explore Cavaradossi’s inner world, rather than having all of it pour outwards, Grigolo could have easily pulled the entire audience into the breaking heart of Cavaradossi.
Though there were brief instances where his voice carried over Rowley’s, such as towards the end of “Qual occhio,” they shared a definite chemistry the likes to be found between two artists who draw inspiration from one another.
A Possessive Man
Zeljko Lucic played Baron Scarpia with frightful control. Some interpretations have the baron showing what could be seen as genuine affection for Tosca, such as when he first hides himself as he readies his scheme, but the motivations of Lucic’s Scarpia were clear from the start: possession. This was hammered in when he places Tosca’s shawl around her shoulders after she tossed it to the ground; keeping his grip firm, this gesture turned the shawl into a leash when Tosca tried to walk away. Holding power, cunning, and certainty, there was little need for Scarpia to mask his desires, as evidenced by his distance from the crowd and procession during “Te Deum,” which saw the Verdi baritone rejoining the chant after elevating himself by climbing atop Cavaradossi’s scaffolding. No stranger to power trips, the “Macbeth” star made a fitting antagonist for Rowley and Grigolo to suffer before.
Grandiose, if With Flaws
From the rise of the curtain, I was delighted by the beauty of the set of the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle. The amount of detail was remarkable and truly gave the impression of a spacious locale. Despite this, there were moments where the seeming expanse did not appear well-utilized or even obstructive. When Cavaradossi and Angelotti flee before the arrival of Scarpia, they leave in the same direction used by the sacristan and choirboys to enter not three seconds later; for the two parties to have missed each other seemed strange, if not implausible. During the “Te Deum” the grand pillars cut off the view of the procession as they marched diagonally, across less than half of the stage, diminishing the impact of their chanting and beautiful vestments. I found my attention shifting back and forth between them and Scarpia, creating separation where unity would be far more appropriate. These minor problems were not found in Acts two and three, the latter of which featuring a strikingly forlorn angel crowning the peak of Castel Sant’Angelo.
Despite a small handful of bumps in the road, David McVicar’s ambitious production of “Tosca” managed to enamor the audience of the January 12 performance not only through its captivating set, but the magnetism of its cast, especially Jennifer Rowley playing Floria Tosca in one of the opera world’s most prominent stages. Audiences will have much to look forward to when she tackles the role of Leonora in “Il Trovatore” later this month.