Monday, January 17, 2011

The show-stopper

Tosca -- Metropolitan Opera, 1/10/2011
Radvanovsky, Alagna, Struckmann / Armiliato

If the whole of Sondra Radvanovsky's Met-first Tosca had been as exquisite as the thunderously received "Vissi d'arte", it would already be one of the outstanding accounts. But not quite yet: it's good, and she has more of the appropriate raw material than decades of predecessors (including, I think, Mattila), but the rest of the part isn't yet natural to her.

Part of it is Puccini, whose music -- after some early Musettas -- hasn't been Radvanovsky's material for a while. His ebb-and-flow melodic lines simply don't seem to complement the vibrato-driven texture of her voice the way Verdi's arcing, rhythmically-precise ones do. And in trying to produce a consistently strong, more classic spinto sound (vs. the dramatic coloratura she more familiarly is), Radvanovsky seems at times to pressure the voice rather than trust her natural carrying power. We shall see how she adapts to this repertoire over time.

But the aria -- as it was last spring -- is already glorious show of vocalism that has me, writing about it now, thinking of stopping by the house tonight for a repeat.

*     *     *

With fully-equipped Toscas rare in this age, the piece has been of late more about the men, as Bryn Terfel and Jonas Kaufmann showed in the spring. In that spirit came tenor Roberto Alagna -- in town for Carmen -- as an emergency substitute for the ill Marcelo Alvarez. Alagna had sounded a bit off himself in the Carmen five days previous, but though he still didn't have quite the free sound he in the season's first months, his Cavaradossi was a good one, and in better voice than his Jose. His relative unfamiliarity with the production -- he almost tipped over his painting scaffold in Act I, and a chess game with a guard had (I think) to be substituted for their scripted Act III opening interaction -- caused no harm, and in fact nicely highlighted the turns into spontaneous happy playfulness of the central couple.

Falk Struckmann doesn't have the powerful physical or vocal presence of his immediate predecessor Terfel, but returns to the psychologically gross manner of George Gagnidze in the production premiere. Struckmann's Scarpia actually may carry it further than Gagnidze's, drawing an unmistakable and pervertedly exquisite pleasure from lashing Tosca's psyche. Both he and Radvanovsky seemed to be feeling out their voices in the first act, but there were no complaints for the second (and, in her case, third).

As ever, Marco Armiliato shaped Puccini's lines straightforwardly but well.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.