Tosca at the Movies: Metropolitan Opera Live

A Scene from Puccini's Tosca, starring Karita Mattlila and Marcelo Alvarez(Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
A Scene from Puccini's Tosca, starring Karita Mattlila and Marcelo Alvarez(Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

The new season of live HD presentations from the Met begins this Saturday at 1pm with the controversial new staging of Puccini‘s Tosca, starring Karita Mattlila and Marcelo Alvarez. Here in Columbus and environs you can see it at:

  • Crosswoods Cinema 17 200 Hutchinson Avenue, 436-9818
  • Georgesville Stadium 16 1800 Georgesville Square Drive, 853-0860
  • Pickerington Cinemas 16 1776 Hill Road, N., 759-8616

Here’s a preview of Tosca, with Mattila and Alvarez, taped at the Met a few weeks ago:

Luc Bondy‘s new staging on opening night, September 21, was booed to the walls. The brouhaha made the evening news. Wags claimed that such booing at the venerable Met had not been heard since a production of Verdi’s Macbeth twenty-five years ago featured broomstick flying witches, a nude ballerina, and an ocean of green body make-up.

Tosca Through the Ages

This new Tosca replaces the magnificent, opulent staging by Franco Zeffirelli from the flush early 1980s. I was present in standing room for the first night of Zeffirelli’s bash, and there was plenty of booing that night, too. Go figure. I loved it. I’m big into excess.

I hasten to add that all of the singers were warmly applauded as was conductor James Levine. The bad news for us this Saturday is that Mr. Levine won’t be conducting-he has had to withdraw because of back surgery.

Tosca is based on a 5 act French play by Victorien Sardou written for Sarah Bernhardt. Critics fell over themselves writing of Sarah’s bewitching speaking voice, noting that her offstage calls of Mario! in the first act sent a frisson through the theater.

But even Sarah’s interpretation was upstaged by Puccini’s opera. Sardou’s five act historical play is long and involved, and led Bernard Shaw to complain of “this endless Sardoodledum.”

Puccini’s compact opera gives us highly-charged loved music between Tosca and Mario in Act I, and sinister music for Scarpia that never veers off into caricature.

The Infamous Jump

Bondy’s production does away with the stage business Puccini took from Bernhardt. Scarpia is not set out cruciform after his murder. There is no cross on his chest and no candles at his side. Tosca’s  jump in the finale is apparently handled by stunt doubles-and bungee cords? – evoking a lot of mirth on opening night a few weeks back.

About that jump: Everyone who loves Tosca has their story about the diva who leaps to her death only to bounce back up again in full view of the audience, thanks to extra mattresses provided by kind stage hands.

The greatest jump I saw was done by  70 year old Magda Olivero in Boston in the late 1970s – she had no fear at all, this elderly lady, and she flew into space. The silliest has to have been Montserrat Caballe at the Met in 1985-who took a handkerchief out of her purse(?!) waved it to the audience, dabbed at her makeup and strolled into the wings – the orchestra playing Puccini’s  final thunderous chords all the while.

I love Tosca.  With the promise of the wonderful Argentine tenor Marcelo Alvarez, and Karita Mattila who if nothing else is always fascinating-and a controversial new staging, I’m looking forward to a rip snorter of an afternoon from the Met, live in HD this Saturday at 1 pm.  See you there.

  • Norman

    Who was the hostess of the Met HD broadcast of Tosca?