We've all heard about it: The groping of the Madonna statue, the prostitutes in Act II, the leap from the tower, the stark sets, the absence of the candles, and most of all, the boos. Whether you love it or hate it, this production of Tosca will be talking about for seasons to come, if it lasts that long. And there's no doubt it will, considering the stir its caused. Peter Gelb is probably rejoicing at the icy reception it has received, the run was mostly sold out!!!
On Saturday, I attended the evening performance of Tosca in standing room. I got a good look at the set, and was, needless to say, underwhelmed. Act I was disappointing, no church in Italy is as blank as that. Even a street chapel has some ornamentation, or at least a proper altar! No, you won't find a painting of a topless Mary Magdalene in a church, but that was the least of my worries by the end of the act. There were some good moments leading up to the final notes of the "Te deum," including Scarpia's entrance on the balcony on the left side of the stage, and the ominous procession of bishops, priests, and choir boys, but in the final chords, Scarpia, in a moment of insanity, pulls the statue of the Madonna on top of him in a very inappropriate manner. I heard some audible murmurs of disgust around me, including my own.
I'll jump right to Act III (in order to save the worst for last): The set I did not mind, I even liked the patrolling officer pacing on the wall, it was an ominous and appropriate effect. I thought the leap was cool, even if I was worried Tosca wouldn't make it up the tower in time. There was, however, a slight delay in the lighting, so we saw the stunt Tosca humorously rebound after the wire caught her fall. Other than that I have no serious complaints about that act.
Act II, I believe, was the worst. I dare to call it a travesty. Never before have I had the urge to boo any opera, or scream "vergogna! shame!" at anything, and in the middle of the performance no less! Of course, I restrained myself, waiting until the curtain to voice my opinion. The act opens to an ugly room in the Palazzo Farnese, colored with yellows and browns and covered with maps of Italy. It was beyond ugly, but that wasn't the worst of it. The crudeness of the prostitutes was absolutely unnecessary. Luc Bondy has to realize that American audiences are not like European audiences, we DO mind when sex is too blatantly presented to us on the stage, especially when it's nonsensical. Not only that, but anyone will tell you that the character of Scarpia would never solicit prostitutes. It is so beneath him. It's not about the money, or the women really, it's about his power! Power is Scarpia's driving force and Luc Bondy completely misses that and shows no consideration for the character when he presents those women on the stage. The next glaring problem I saw came after Tosca agrees to give in to Scarpia's demand and she asks for a safe pass out of Rome. Scarpia says "You wish to leave us?" and Tosca says "Yes, forever," whereupon Scarpia falls to his knees and starts to convulse in fake sobs. He crawls towards Tosca, to the audience's horror, and the stands up, gives a typical Scarpia look of disgust, and goes to his desk to write the pass. When he fell to his knees, I literally took a step back, stunned, and others around me look similarly surprised, even some people in the orchestra seats shifted around uncomfortably. Finally, the whole business with leaving out the candles and the crucifix would not bother me half so much if (1) Puccini had not clearly written it in the score or (2) Bondy hadn't replaced it with something ridiculous. What person would stay at the scene of the crime long enough to relax and fan herself on a couch? No, it's not right. Plus, I don't agree with having "foreshadowing" with Tosca almost jump out the Palazzo window. You can bring new things in, just don't disrespect the composer.
Actual review for singers coming next.