Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bondy and Puccini and Tosca: Oh My!

Well, I had a BALL with this Tosca – which I found thrilling and great fun! I just don’t understand the anger directed towards it. Not at all.

Proclamations Bondy was pulling the wool over our eyes, collecting a paycheck, etc., are as outrageous as anything I’ve read here. A respected director known for working closely with his actors, forcing them to explore their characters actions is an ethic to be respected, not derided. One needn’t like the result but sneer or belittle it speaks volumes about one’s own prejudice. Bondy actually opened my eyes to things I seldom think about in Tosca.

One of the gripes since the prima has been that Tosca would not lie down and fan herself, or go home and change her outfit. Why not? “Tosca would BOLT out of Scarpia’s apartment,” we keep hearing, but would she really?

There are compelling theatrical reasons for her, chiefly that she’s rattled and reeling from having just killed the most powerful man in Rome. She heard his send off to Spoletta so aware no one’s coming back to bother him while he’s claiming his prize. So, we’ve got what? Another five hours . . . six before Mario’s “fakexecution?” The gals needs to pull it together and right now Scarpia’s pad is the absolute SAFEST place in the world for her: he’s dead and his goons won’t be back til dawn. I found this action well conceived and executed.

By the way, it’s obvious that if she’s got time to kill at home collecting jewels and whatnot, then why the hell not slip into something a little less – oh I don’t know – GLARINGLY OBVIOUS than the fire engine red number she was last seen wearing at the scene of a murder (besides it’s stained with “his” blood . . . gross).

I fell in love with Gagnidze’s voice from the prima on Sirius – and think his one of the best sung Scarpias I’ve heard in a while (and his Italian sounded the best of the three principals). Deliciously malevolent this is a pure “rotten to the core” monster take and I loved it. Aarguments Scarpia would “not behave like that” are silly, as though evil must play by some code of honor, or law set in stone. I saw or heard nothing here that went one iota against the libretto; nothing. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all like the sophisticated, elegant monsters like Gobbi or London, but there’s something exciting and satisfying about a purely evil, creepy, sleazebag receiving his just desserts. Jjust call me old-fashioned!

I enjoyed the dynamics between this Tosca and her Mario (his repeated attempts to get her to leave – hilarious and sweet). Mattila’s maturity gave Alvarez a sort of “boy toy” status (I kept thinking Sunset Blvd. or Sweet Bird of Youth) making her jealousy and desperation for him palpable. I didn’t find Mattila overacting but rather pushing the text it to its furthest reaches and since when did THAT earn a singer scorn or a ticket to crucifixion?

I sense an unwillingness from some not in exploring new things, but rather familiar things in new ways. There’s not a single soul here who knows Tosca so well, they can’t gain from seeing it in a fresh perspective or find something new by having some its trappings stripped away. I also sense many went in to this fully expecting to hate it (a feeling reinforced by prior postings of what opera “should” be.)

This Tosca had dozens of “aha!” moments - something I’ve not done in years with Tosca. Among these: The guards dry run of the execution during the Shepherd’s song giving off a sense of how even amidst the horrors and subterfuge of Scarpia’s bloody tyranny, life still goes on (ob la di . . . ). The crushing, forward momentum of the Te Deum participants which I found absolutely thrilling – frightening actually.

Act III found Mattila in some of her best singing of the show, and the unison “trionfal” duet was thrilling – in tune (listen to when the band re-enters – no shifting of mouths, no need to raise or lower the pitch, etc.) and the touch with Tosca showing Mario how she would fall – sliding down the wall – after being shot was one of those genius touches.

Mention has been made of how “ho hum” or “boring” folk found this. Well, not me – and certainly not any of my friends who all were on our seat edges, following the drama breathlessly as though our first Tosca. Boring? Yawn inducing. Not on your life!

I loved all the details Bondy brought even to the smallest roles with everybody popping to life in vivid, dramatic relief. I loved also, Tosca (now deranged beyond the point of grief) – egging on her tormenters, shoving Spoleta and waiting until the final second to hurl herself out of the tower!

If I had any problem with the presentation it was the intermissions with Ms. Graham’s answering her guests questions, and talking over their answers and when they finally get to speak, cutting them short. I love this lady, but Interviewer was not a particularly good role for her .

So while everyone else wants to whine, I’ll again say: Thank you, PBS, Met, Messrs. Gelb and Bondy – and Maestro Puccini.