Above: Maestro Joseph Colaneri
Saturday November 28th, 2015 matinee - Arriving at The Met for today's matinee of TOSCA, I found that patrons are now being 'wanded' by security forces on entering the house. Once inside, I watched the auditorium not fill up: at curtain time there were an alarming number of empty seats. If a Saturday matinee of a popular opera on a holiday weekend cannot sell better than this, what's to be done? From my score desk, I avoided the dreariness of the Luc Bondy production, instead letting this exciting traversal of the score play out dramatically in my theatre of the mind. Later in the day, news came of Mr. Bondy's death - he's the same age as me.
Liudmyla Monastyrska's 2012 Aida at The Met was interesting enough draw me back to the House this afternoon to hear her as Tosca. Roberto Aronica, a idiomatically solid Cavaradossi in a performance I attended earlier this season, and Marco Vratogna, new to me, shared the stage with the Ukrainian soprano. All three sang passionately, and they had the right sized voices for their roles in the big space. But in the end it was the opera itself, and conductor Joseph Colaneri's marvelous feeling for the music, that kept me on to the end and had me shouting bravo! for the Maestro at the curtain calls.
Colaneri is a real opera conductor: he knows that the voices come first and he can immediately establish a dynamic range to suit whatever cast he's presiding over. Every singer is always heard, and if in the heat of the moment someone in the cast should rush ahead or linger too long on a note, Colaneri can immediately adjust and keep the flow of the music steady. My hat is off to him for this TOSCA, which seemed so fresh and alive, almost as if I was hearing it for the first time instead of the 500th.
Today's TOSCA was much more the sort of performance of this opera that I want to hear than the one I attended earlier this month, where Angela Gheorghiu's walking-on-eggshells singing of the title role siphoned off much of the excitement. Today, Ms. Monastyrska displayed the needed vocal amplitude for the music of Tosca, and she and her colleagues sang with generosity and commitment all afternoon.
Two powerful bassos each made their mark in the first act: Richard Bernstein (Angelotti) and John Del Carlo (Sacristan) both sounded huge, declaiming their lines vividly. Later, in Act III, Connor Tsui sang the song of the shepherd so impressively that I felt like applauding.
Mr. Aronica, first of the principals to appear, has a sturdy, masculine sound which he flung into the house confidently. Some passing flatness at the passaggio was not a serious detriment to his performance. Having had to rein his voice in somewhat when singing opposite Mme. Gheorghiu in the earlier performance, he was today much better matched with Ms. Monastyrska and together they poured out the big melodies of the love duet with apt Puccinian fervor. Later, vowing to aid Angelotti, Aronica speared a triumphant high-B on "La vita mi costasse!" and held onto it.
As the diva playing the diva, Ms. Monastyrska established her vocal credentials with her commanding offstage cries of "Mario! Mario!". Once onstage, her voice revealed a slightly throaty throb, and a bit of flutter that quickly endeared itself as it gave a trace of vulnerability to the character. The Monastyrska sound sails easily into the hall, especially as she ventures to the upper end of her range. She puts very little pressure in the lower notes, and showed good instincts in lightening the voice for "Non la sospiri" and the playful banter about the colour of the Attavanti's eyes. Some rather odd diction along the way didn't bother me in the least, especially when she and Mr. Aronica cut loose to exciting effect in the climaxes of their duet.
Diction and its effectiveness played a good part of the success of Marco Vratogna's Scarpia. His voice has a darkish, menacing quality and his creepy verbal nuances revealed the sadism lurking under his quasi-elegant veneer. For all his dramatic bite, Vratogna could also deliver real, sustained vocalism when it suited him: his "Tosca divina, la mano mia..." was musically reassuring. The Attavanti fan having done its work, Ms. Monastyrska - her voice now at full flourish - gave a walloping shout at "Tu non l'avrai stasera...GIURO!" and went on to an exciting crescendo at "...egli vede ch'io piango!" Maestro Colaneri then marshaled the orchestra and chorus for the grandiose finale, giving the music its full sweep but never overwhelming Mr. Vratogna's relishing of the text as he salivates over his plan for Tosca's ultimate surrender.
Mr. Vratogna impressed at the start of Act II with his greasily subtle musings on being so close to having Tosca in his trap; increasingly angry with Spoletta, the baritone understandably blustered a bit. Cavaradossi is brought in and then taken off to be tortured and the cat-and-mouse game between Tosca and Scarpia begins.
Ms. Monastyrska monumental high-A on "Solo, si!" was soon followed by one of her rare ventures into chest voice at "Sogghigno di demone!"...very effective. Maestro Colaneri built the drama thrillingly as Scarpia baited Tosca mercilessly; from a bold and brassy top C down to a plaintive murmur at "Che v'ho fatto in vita mia..?" Monastyrska had really gotten into it.
Tosca blurts out the truth about Angelotti's hiding place to Scarpia; her lover, on discovering she's caved in, is about to disown her when news of Bonaparte's victory at Marengo throws Scarpia for a loop. Colaneri in a great moment drove the orchestra relentlessly and Aronica tackled a passionate top-A on "Vittoria!". The Monastyrska high-C as she sees her lover dragged away was massive - slightly raw, but thrilling.
A false calm is restored. Scarpia/Vratogna offers his bargain. Describing his lust for Tosca, the baritone was slightly taxed by the highish tessitura here but verbally makes it all work. Monastyrska began the "Vissi d'arte" softly, slowly opening the voice and phrasing throughout with lovely modulations of colour and volume; she went totally lyric at "Diedi gioielli della Madonna al manto..." before the build-up to a house-filling B-flat, followed immediately by a pulling back on the A-flat and then a stunning crescendo to triple forte on the G. I've never heard it done this way, but the soprano pulled it off impressively.
The murder scene was less effective than some I have heard - Monastyrska's parlando phrases were not really effectively rendered - but Colaneri and his orchestra's superb playing of the postlude to the murder was so atmospheric.
Fantastic work from The Met horns at the opening of Act III; the prelude was yet another Colaneri jewel, evolving to the amazingly deep sounds that precede the introduction of the "E lucevan le stelle..." theme. Basso Tyler Simpson made his mark as the jailer, and then the haunting prelude to the tenor's aria commences. Mr. Aronica was at his finest here, with an intense and passionate ending which won him sustained applause.
Monastyrska/Tosca arrives; she describes the murder of Scarpia vividly, culminating in a blindingly bright and very long high-C at "Io quella lama...". Maestro Colaneri and his players sustained their high level as the soprano and tenor joined in a flowing duet before soaring to a stentorian high-B just before their unison "Trionfal!" And then Scarpia's last trick is played out and the opera ends in a flash.
The tedium of two Gelb-intermissions was relieved by chatting up a young pianist from Montreal, visiting the Met - and our City - for the first time.
Metropolitan Opera House
November 28th, 2015 matinee
Sacristan...............John Del Carlo