Thursday, May 12, 2016

MUNICH 2016 - VI

The next day after the ballet I was back for Tosca, the lowering sun doing its ribbons of gold thing inside this splendid house. I didn't choose Tosca; it chose me.

The first Tosca I saw had the late John Shaw gravelling out a thrillingly black Scarpia (a role he understudied with Gobbi). Shaw had a big career, and I wonder if we knew just how lucky we were to have him. When the crescendoing chorus parted to reveal him there in mine shaft black, and as black inside as out, I still remember the chills in the spine. Interestingly, his Covent Garden debut was as Rigoletto with the virtually unknown Joan Sutherland as his Gilda.

The last Tosca I remember was with Domingo at the Met in the Zeffirelli extravaganza and of which I recall little except the marvellous stage mechanics as (act 3) Mario runs up the stone stairs of a descending set to emerge into the dawn light of the new set above.

(Alert  - grumpy at best bitchy at worst comments to follow and n.b. everyone else seemed to love it and applauded wildly forever)

Looking at the cast list, you could be forgiven for thinking we scored second cast:

Callegari / Petrenko
Radvanosky / Harteros
de Leon / Kaufmann
Maestri/ Terfel

although I was particularly keen to hear Sondra Radvanosky after her huge success as Elizabeth in Roberto Devereux at the Met. She is, in case you missed it, the Met's upcoming Norma now that Ms Netrebko has withdrawn vocally unsuited to the role.

Either way, we would be saddled (as it turned out) with Luc Bondy's at times risible production. It didn't spoil the evening, in fact it's more than worthwhile to see concepts go off the rails. It's reassuring in a way. I assume this was to be an ugly Mussolini-esque anti-Zeffirelli statement. But burdened with

>  over-drawn caricatures e.g. a crippled scoliotic cardinal with hip dysplasia all but crawling to a Madonna being literally abused by a naughty naughty chief-of-police who later despite a room full of sluts needed to keep sticking his nose into Tosca'a boobs - are we seriously talking not enough sex instead of an insatiable lust for power; a limping, simpering, quivering nail chewing torture enjoying Spoletta; baddies with dark glasses inside - hello high school productions ....

>  tediously ugly sets which contributed little to the drama and sucked much out of it e.g a basement first act chapel of little purport other than the chance to have Angelotti (his stand-in anyway) scale down a rope dodging not scary at all searchlights but necessitating the steps and the painting be wheeled off stage to make room for the chorus who ambled in with no purpose other than the need to dress up and sing a big chorus; Scarpia's fascist apartment arranged with furniture like virgins at a country dance - backs to the wall - such that the action is so widely dispersed across the whole stage that at no stage is there anything even resembling tension; a vast 'isolationist' vacuum space for executions with a high parapet nearly in the wings where I suspect a lot of the house saw nary a 'leap' ....

>  some strange tempi e.g even the opening bars were so slow as to be mmm boring but that said, they played well and he did get some of big climaxes happening ...

Enough already. I thought Ms Radvanosky very fine, really very good and despite some silly girlie stuff in the first Act - she's a real time Prima Donna now, or so the Met audience say - her vocalism is a marvel : a lovely middle register, richly coloured, and a focused and penetrating top beautifully controlled. Her big number Vissi d'arte was deservedly well received - she'd capped it off with an endless mezzoforte - a brilliantly secure decrescendo followed by a crescendo even more forte than the beginning.

If anyone still wonders if this really is a shabby little shocker, they could do worse than go see this - except for the shocker bit.

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