The diva is the diva: Netrebko sensational in first “Tosca” at the Met

Sun Apr 22, 2018 at 1:15 pm
Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov in Puccini's "Tosca" at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Ken Howard

Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov in Puccini’s “Tosca” at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Ken Howard

This was the role debut Metropolitan Opera audiences have been dreaming of for more than a decade: on Saturday night, in a performance that was sold out months in advance, Anna Netrebko sang her first Tosca. The reigning diva of the opera world finally appeared as the greatest diva written for the stage.

Leading the season’s second cast in the new production by David McVicar that opened on New Year’s Eve, Netrebko gave a sensational performance. As ever, her soprano is dark and powerful, especially in her viscous, smoky middle range. Her top is as focused as it has sounded in years, soaring to majestic heights in “Vissi d’arte”; the passionate lament of Act II was breathtaking for both the passion of its delivery and the precision of its phrasing. The urgent piano singing in her plea after the aria was if anything even more affecting, a dramatic detail that completed the scene.

In the only noticeable production change, Tosca makes her first entrance in a gown and silk stole, an improvement over the odd white shift worn by Sonya Yoncheva for Act I.

Playing Cavaradossi for this run is Netrebko’s husband Yusif Eyvazov, who replaced Marcelo Álvarez without explanation (the customary “withdrawn due to illness” was omitted from the press release announcing the change). Odd as the circumstances may have been, his work on Saturday was impressive. His is a darker sound, a tenor of considerably more weight, than usually heard in this role, but he commanded it well, showing a ringing, clear top and vitality in his singing. A little restraint would have helped him in Act III: “E lucevan le stelle,” as brief as it is, is one of the opera’s most intense expressions of emotion, made all the more powerful for being so concentrated. To drag it out as Eyvazov did only dilutes its effect.

For several years now, Michael Volle has been heralded as the next great dramatic baritone. He certainly delivered on that promise, giving the Met its most chilling Scarpia in recent memory. This is not a voice of rich tone but it is an enormously powerful one, with an intimidating, biting bark. His bearing onstage is terrifying: even his lackeys seemed to flinch at his slightest movement, as though his gaze could turn a victim to stone.

Bertrand de Billy’s musical direction started off well enough, with a dark, bombastic flourish in the opening chords, but was uneven thereafter. The first act was oddly turgid, offering only a general soup of sound and nearly coming apart in Tosca and Scarpia’s duet. The second had the opposite problem, its composition too watery to support the intense drama of the scene. He finally struck a balance in the third act, but even there, a little more brio would have helped the score reach its full dramatic power.

Patrick Carfizzi once again was a luxury as the sacristan, complementing his endearing portrayal with a tone that is unusually rich for comic relief role. Brenton Ryan was the very picture of obsequious sliminess, bringing a slick, thin tenor as Spoletta.

Tosca runs through May 12 at the Metropolitan Opera. The final two performances feature Željko Lučić as Scarpia and a tenor to be announced as Cavaradossi.

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