A diva brings intimate conviction to a diva in Met’s “Tosca”

Fri Oct 30, 2015 at 1:57 pm
Angela Gheorghiu in the title role and Željko Lučić as Scarpia in Puccini's "Tosca" at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo:  Ken Howard

Angela Gheorghiu in the title role and Željko Lučić as Scarpia in Puccini’s “Tosca” at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Ken Howard

There’s nothing quite like the return of the prodigal diva to pack an opera house on a Thursday night.

The Met’s fall run of Puccini’s Tosca has fielded a series of rotating casts, featuring stars of various brightness. None was a bigger draw than the appearance of Angela Gheorghiu, who has been largely absent from the Met’s stage in recent years, giving the first of just two performances in the title role.

In many ways, she rewarded the confidence of her assembled admirers, even if she looked physically awkward in much of the drama, becoming overly preoccupied with her dress at some of the opera’s most intense moments. The color of her voice is gorgeous—her tone is smooth and full, mellow but with a hint of lemon.

It is also, though, on the small side, and in that respect her performance also served as a reminder of why a handful of the world’s great operatic artists don’t have much of a presence of the Met. In a house this large, many singers who can deliver stunning, intimate performances in venues of more manageable size, struggle to fill the room. Gheorghiu on Thursday was occasionally covered by the orchestra entirely, despite the efforts of Paolo Carignani and company to stay under her.

Nonetheless, Gheorghiu’s vocal artistry carried her to a powerful performance, nowhere more clearly than in her account of “Vissi d’arte.” Sopranos with bigger voices can unleash all their power here, using overwhelming, billowing sound to produce the required emotional effect. Rather than trying to shout and reach for more volume than she had, Gheorghiu turned inward; her interpretation was compact, focused, subtle, and absolutely arresting.

A marquee name on many other nights, Željko Lučić was a formidable Scarpia; with his build and look, he’s the sort of actor who can seem intimidating just by standing with his arms at his sides. In his awkward courtship of the diva in Act I his smooth baritone almost seemed inviting, a change of pace from the familiar, imposing growl of George Gagnidze that has been the Met’s go-to Tosca villain in recent years. Yet as the evening wore on, the voice grew coarser until it became truly menacing during the extended confrontation of Act II.

Roberto Aronica proved a pleasant surprise as the painter-cum-patriot Cavaradossi. Early on his voice sounded burly, and he used his considerable power to push his way through “Recondita armonia.” But he later channeled that power into emotional singing, showing a trumpeting top register in the second act and giving a moving rendition of the brief but passionate “E lucevan le stelle.” His death was completely convincing—this might seem like a minor point, but a tenor who flails his arms and clutches his chest can destroy the pathos of the final scene.

Carignani’s conducting, filling in for the ailing Plácido Domingo, was serviceable, clean though generally unimaginative. He deftly managed the building tension of the second act’s torture scene, but played it safe during Scarpia’s death, keeping a lid on the orchestra. John Del Carlo remains a dependable character actor, portraying an affable if somewhat harried sacristan, and the young Daniel Katzman impressed with a clear, steady tone in the shepherd’s offstage aria.

If rumors prove true, this might be the final bow for Luc Bondy’s staging, one of the most reviled productions of the Peter Gelb era. It has been tamed significantly since earlier appearances—the strange grope to which Scarpia subjected the effigy of St. Mary in years past has now become more of an awkward hug, and there’s almost no spanking in the Palazzo Farnese scene. At this point, the presentation is so bland it’s almost hard to imagine how it could have caused such an uproar to begin with.

Tosca runs through December 1. Marcello Giordani takes over the role of Cavaradossi beginning November 6, and James Morris takes over as Scarpia beginning November 11, followed by Marco Vratogna on November 25. Maria Guleghina, Oksana Dyka, and Liudmyla Monastyrska share the role of Tosca. Plácido Domingo and Joseph Colaneri split conducting duties. metopera.org

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