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Tosca and Regie

The morning after: still thinking about the Met's Tosca, and how directors approach opera, and how the idea of "being faithful to what the composer wanted" has a way of morphing over time to reflect the conventions of the present day as much as the ideas of Puccini.

Here's a piece of directorial interpretation that's become pretty much standard-issue in "Tosca" productions, though it may not be exactly what Puccini had in mind. In Act III, when Tosca tells Cavaradossi that she's about to free him after he goes through a mock execution, it's very common to have Cavaradossi realize that Tosca has been duped and he's going to be killed. You can see his shoulders sag, or some gesture expressing the idea that hope has been taken away, though he then quickly tries to hide his sorrow from Tosca. It's an interpretation that makes perfect sense: it even helps explain the awful tinniness of the music of their ensuing duet if you understand that to one of them, it's all a big fake, an attempt to hide bitter despair at his own approaching death.
(read more after the jump)

Luc Bondy, in part because he seemed to go into this production wanting to do as little received "Tosca" wisdom or schtick as possible, didn't play it that way. Marcelo Álvarez's Cavaradossi was fully into it, believing in his rescue, telling Tosca earnestly that he would die a stage death worthy of her acting in the theater (Karita Mattila's Tosca showed him how, eliciting a rather oddly timed laugh from the audience). It was kind of refreshing to see this played straight -- though it didn't make that silly duet sound a whole lot better.

As to why these details matter: I, for one, like to see a production that has given as much thought to what the audience is looking at as the composer has given to what the audience hears. The composer certainly thought the visuals mattered; so being faithful to his intentions seems to me to involve putting a level of care into the visuals that at least reflects the level of care put into the music. I don't think Bondy punted altogether on that score: as I intimated in the review, there's nothing wrong with omitting certain traditional bits of stage business -- yes, even the candles around Scarpia's corpse, or the literal setting of the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle -- if there's a reason to do so. I'm just not wild about what he came up with to replace them.

By Anne Midgette  |  September 22, 2009; 4:48 PM ET
Categories:  opera , random musings  
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I say bring in Calixto Beito to do the Met's next Parsifal. That'll show NYers what regietheater really is.

Posted by: ianw2 | September 23, 2009 7:44 AM | Report abuse

This was a seriously major downgrade for the Met. Zeffereli's Tosca was much less overdone than his Boehme; the sets looked like the locations specified in the script. The new one might have worked except the staging ignored the action. There were at least 3 big laughs at inappropriate times, including the end, when Tosca jumps off the roof (or was she hit by a death ray?). I get the need to keep things fresh, but being artsy for artsy's sake is probably not the way to fill a 4,000 seat theater.

Posted by: groundhogdayguy | September 23, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

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