Stikhina’s captivating diva brightens Met’s winter “Tosca”

Sat Jan 15, 2022 at 2:08 pm
By Rick Perdian
Elena Stikhina in the title role and George Gagnidze as Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Ken Howard / Met Opera

There are no routine nights at the Metropolitan Opera this season as every performance is a cause for anxiety and celebration. The typed white notice in the program for Tosca gave a moment’s pause, but the substitution was minor: Jeongcheol Cha replaced Bradly Garvin as Sciarrone. The starry headliners—Elena Stikhina as Floria Tosca, Joseph Calleja as Cavaradossi and George Gagnidze as Scarpia—were all in ruddy health and they sounded like it.

The Met is presenting Tosca 15 times from December through March and this was the second performance for this cast, of which Gagnidze is the only holdover from the December run. Calleja is a Met regular, but Stikhina has only sung in the house once before in the title role of Suor Angelica in 2018. Undoubtedly, Met audiences will be hearing more of her.

Stikhina first appeared on stage as light and lovely as a mild breeze on a June day, which is when the action takes place. Her Tosca has the air of the diva, but with little overt melodrama. With such delicacy, vivaciousness and naïveté, there was no doubt why she would appeal to an artist such as Cavaradossi—and drive Scarpia’s darker desires. Few stage Toscas are as youthful and beautiful as this one. 

There is metal in Stikhina’s voice and her gleaming soprano slices through the orchestra with ease. She sculpts a phrase beautifully and her high notes are thrilling. The one musical misstep of the performance was not her fault;  Stikhina began “Vissi d’arte,” very softly and the orchestra, led by Carlo Rizzi, was far too loud for the opening bars. Otherwise, there was nothing but glorious sound throbbing with emotion.

The loudest ovation of the night went to Calleja. Rizzi indulged the tenor by permitting him to hold his high A-sharp in Act II when rejoicing over Napoleon’s victory for an eternity and taking Puccini’s instruction “con gran sentimento” in “E lucevan le stelle” to heart. Calleja’s ascent to the high A in that aria when singing of the preciousness of life was breathtakingly effortless. 

Gagnidze’s Scarpia had a thin veneer of refinement and piety that did little to mask his true nature. The grandeur of the clergy, choristers and the faithful participating in the Te Deum was not center stage, nonetheless a Scarpia of Gagnidze’s vocal and physical stature isn’t about to get lost in a crowd.

A Sacristan with real stage presence, Patrick Carfizzi didn’t indulge in any slapstick but his mix of piety and indignation was quite funny, and his bass-baritone imposing. Kyle Albertson’s Angelotti was heroic of voice and stature, while Brenton Ryan sinister Spoletta sent a shiver up one’s spine. 

Rizzi has taken over from the Met’s music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin for this January run. Since his debut in 1993, Rizzi has conducted more than 200 performances at the Met. There was nothing routine about the performance, however, and the Met orchestra was splendid, apart from the imbalance noted earlier. The horn playing and the clarinet solo in “E lucevan le stelle” were particularly fine. 

David McVicar’s production premiered at the Met on New Year’s Eve 2017. It’s as traditional as can be with the three Rome locations—the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, the Palazzo Farnese and Castel Sant’Angelo—faithfully reproduced. The only thing off-kilter, literally, are the sets for Acts II and III. 

Tosca runs through March 12. Aleksandra Kurzak and Roberto Alagna star in the March performances.

Rick Perdian contributes regularly to Classical Voice North America, Seen and Heard International and MusicWeb International. He writes program notes for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. His articles on music and travel have appeared in the Global Times and Shanghai Daily. He also leads small-group tours with a musical theme.

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