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Friday, October 30, 2015

Angela Tosca

Angela Gheorghiu as Tosca, photo @Ken Howard
Angela Gheorghiu's Tosca shouldn't have worked for a million reasons. Her soft-grained lyric voice is now even more under-powered, and she admitted in an interview that she didn't like Luc Bondy's production. But her return to the Met for just two performances of Tosca last night was a triumph. Yes her voice occasionally didn't have the reserves of power to ride over the orchestra, yes her acting was sometimes a touch mannered, but Gheorghiu is like many great singers in that she draws attention to what she can still do, rather than things beyond her ability.

Luc Bondy's production was a conscious reaction against the "traditional" Tosca productions. It was booed vociferously when it first opened in 2009. But over the years it's "evolved" in that different singers have changed the blocking, subtly or unsubtly, to suit their own tastes. Gheorghiu arrived onstage in Act One and it was obvious that she'd gotten a new set of costumes (the train in Act Two now resembles a royal wedding train) and that her Floria Tosca was a much softer, more coquettish personality than Bondy's original conception of the role. She ignored some of the original blocking, like fanning herself after she murdered Scarpia, or slashing Cavaradossi's painting.


Photo by Ken Howard
Bondy's production does seem to favor voices -- Gheorghiu was audible all night. A few of the C's in the second act were flat, and her bottom register has sort of dissolved into vapors, but she really knows how to sell the big moments. Her duet with Scarpia was intense, desperate, and she also knew how to save up her voice so it wasn't overpowered by the orchestra. "Visse d'arte" was performance art at its finest -- she ended the aria on one knee, head bowed to the audience. The audience ate it up. Her naturally soft, sexy voice gave the duets with Cavaradossi a real intimacy. She also knows some classic stage tricks, like finding the center of the spotlight during ensembles so attention is always drawn to her, and turning to the side during duets so audiences can admire her tailored gowns.

Roberto Aronica (Cavaradossi) has a large if somewhat muscled voice. It's not very beautiful and unlike, say Franco Corelli or Luciano Pavarotti he isn't able to float soft notes in "Recondita armonia"  or "E lucevan le stelle." He's not a star, but the performance was professional and competent, and I'll settle for that. He does have squillo.



Željko Lučić must be one of the most over-exposed singers on the international scene. Heavy hitting baritone role? He's there. His voice really isn't to my taste -- it tends to get stuck in his throat, but he did seem more engaged as Scarpia than is the norm with him. I liked the staging during "Visse d'arte," where Tosca is singing her heart out and Scarpia is sleeping on the couch. Otherwise, Scarpia no longer does much of the original blocking -- no more dry-humping the Madonna statue in Act One, and the business with the hookers in Act Two is now more of a casual hang out rather than active servicing. Eh. He gets the job done.

The minor roles were better than usual. John Del Carlo (Sacristan) is now king of comic comprimario roles I guess. Conductor Paolo Carignani got a huge smooch from Gheorghiu during the curtain calls. He's her kind of conductor - when she wants to be ahead of the beat, he indulges her. When she wants to fall behind to do some classic Gheorghiu note-spinning, he puts his baton down. 
Overall the evening was one of the better Toscas I've attended in all my years of operagoing. ISince Gheorghiu now limits her performances so severely, I'm happy when she showed up last night she gave it her all. Maybe she does live for love and art after all. And clothes. She definitely lives for those tiaras and gowns. But hey, when you've got it, flaunt it.


7 comments:

  1. I've never understood the criticism of Gheorghiu that she's inaudible. People say the same Bizarre things about Kaufmann and I will say in my experience I've never had any trouble hearing either one of them. In both cases there are times when I want more volume and ping from both of them but they are always audible. Same could be said for pretty much everyone I've heard.

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    1. I think the "inaudible" thing is odd too. Not every voice is Birgit Nilsson or Dolora Zajick -- some voices are lyric. Actually the one time a singer was truly inaudible was Marcello Giordani as Radames -- he struggled so much that I felt bad for the poor guy. Obviously sick. But otherwise, I haven't really ever heard a singer I'd say was "inaudible."

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    2. I'd go with 'barely audible' rather than 'inaudible' to describe a singer who is barely audible.

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    3. I had hard times heading Battle and Behrens at certain times and Giordani as well, though I think that has to do with his instrument being in the state it's in. His low notes tend to get swallowed up.

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    4. The singer that I never really have any issues hearing is Dmitri H. and I've also heard people complain that they can't hear him. His voice may not be Leonard Warren but it's certainly a well-produced, medium-sized voice that has no issues being heard.

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  2. The first act was a total loss. In act II and III Gheorghiu recovered. She was convincing and skilled in the ""Visse d'arte." I agree about the acting and the clothing. The tenor was not prepared, he pushed too hard. The only thing that worked for me was the svelte looking (and sounding) Željko Lučić. Miss the candelabras in Act II….

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    1. I feel like many Tosca performances aren't what they should be. This opera is popular no matter who sings it, and unlike Boheme it hasn't become a starter vehicle for promising young singers. Another opera that suffers from casting inertia is Turandot, particularly at the Met.

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