Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York, N.Y. November 5, 2018—The David McVicar Tosca that replaced the hated Luc Bondy production is a finely traditional affair. It arrived at the Met on New Year’s Eve, 2017, with Sonya Yoncheva and Vittorio Grigolo as the protagonists, and as was becoming their youth and charm, he portrayed them as playful, puckish lovers, caught up in a political mess that changes them forever. The sets, huge and imposing, offered a true-looking church, Scarpia’s finely appointed office in the Castel Sant’Angelo complete with fireplace and mural depicting, vaguely abstractly, The Rape of the Sabine Women, and the building’s roof at dawn complete with winged statue.
This season’s revival, seen November 5th, starred soprano Sondra Radvanovsky and tenor Joseph Calleja. Much of the same playful behavior was in evidence, but the pair, somewhat older and with more stature, seemed more complex. This Tosca’s good-humored jealousy was more serious when Cavaradossi was otherwise occupied; she was altogether a more mature, take-charge woman, and Radvanovsky, quite simply, walked away with the opera. It was a portrayal for the ages–dignified, passionate, exquisitely sung. The voice, a big, brazen instrument, has gained both in beauty and size, and she worked every facet of Tosca’s mood swings, terrors, rages, and tenderness. The top of her voice is a true miracle, with what is probably the largest, loudest and most secure high-C since Birgit Nilsson. The sheer sound was ravishing; combined with her great artistry, she glowed.
Calleja is a complicated artist. The bottom and middle of his voice are grand and dark; what was formerly a very noticeable vibrato has come under control. But the top tightens–above an A it’s a different sound, occasionally effective, occasionally not: he has trouble with B-flats, but not with B-naturals. He’s not much of an actor but he’s a striking presence, and for most of the evening he was very effective, delivering a beautifully shaded last-act aria. Bass Claudio Sgura, in his debut role at the Met, proved a Scarpia of more cool cruelty than lechery. Appearing to be about six-feet-seven inches tall, he strode elegantly through the first two acts, his voice stronger at top than at the bottom.
The others in the cast impressed, the quick interplay between Scarpia, Sciarrone, and Spoletta in Act 2 went naturally and conversationally. Conductor Carlo Rizzi had the true feel for this hard-edged work, with a smart, quick first act and just-right tempos and moods for the rest as well. The ovations were enthusiastic and sincere.