Love, idealism, and ruse in a thrilling drama by Giacomo Puccini
A new production of Puccini’s Tosca by Sir David McVicar at the Met Opera offers a grand theatrical experience for the opera fans. The performances are opening on the New Year Eve and will continue in January and April, May of 2018. This production will be played by two extraordinary casts each making a forceful presence on stage. Two opera divas, Sonya Yoncheva and Anna Netrebko are sharing the title role with Vittorio Grigolo and Marcelo Alvarez alternating as Cavaradossi, with not two but three magnificent Scarpias, Sir Bryn Terfel, Michael Volle, and Željko Lučić, and Music Director Emeritus James Levine conducting. The set and costume design for this production is done by John Macfarlane, who as a painter is adding to the depth of the characters through the rich design of the decorations and the period costumes. McVicar’s production which a review by AP describes as “similar to Zeffirelli’s” is replacing a spare modern staging of Tosca by Luc Bondy which was not warmly received by the Met opera buffs.
The now world-famous story of the passionate lovers and a heartless police chief is based on an 1887 French play La Tosca by Victorien Sardou, a renown French playwright in his time. Sardou had written this play for Sarah Bernhardt. That production was wildly successful touring around Europe with more than 3000 performances. Puccini, attending two of the performances, saw it promising to set as an opera. Following a lengthy negotiation with Sardou, he eventually got the rights and started his work on the score in 1895. The libretto was commissioned to Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa who had not only significantly cut back on the text of the rather lengthy play with multiple characters and dialogs, but also to transform the characters motives into a scenario suitable for an Italian opera.
The setting for the opera is Rome in 1800 at the time of Napoleon Wars that led to French domination over Italy. The historical church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in Act 1, Palazzo Farnese in Act 2, and Castel Sant’Angelo in Act 3 can still be visited today. With all these real places in mind, Puccini wanted to reconstruct the divine sounds that could be heard there. For that reason, the score includes a part for the church bells which are close in pitch to the bell of the St. Peter’s Basilica. While this adds to the time and efforts in the production of the opera, it doesn’t produce much effect on the audience.
The premiere was given in 1900 in Teatro Costanzi in Rome. That year Italy had experienced some unrest, so the premiere was even delayed by a day to avoid unwanted disturbances. It was performed to full houses for 30 performances in the first year and is now a beloved entry in the repertoire of every opera house around the world.
The role of Tosca is considered to be a career defying opportunity. One of the most famous interpreters of a temperamental lover was Maria Callas who was singing it as her last onstage operatic role in 1965. For Luciano Pavarotti , the role of Cavaradossi which he had performed since 1970, was also his last onstage performance at the Met in 2004.
The first recording of Tosca was done in 1918. Among the highly prized recent recordings is Royal Opera House version with Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna, Ruggero Raymond and Antonio Pappano conducting which was released in 2000.
Stunning design, masterful “verismo” style of music and passionate acting will undoubtedly create a memorable operatic experience for the spectators!
Venue: Met Opera, Lincoln Center, NY
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