06 April 2005

The Oceanliner & the Met need repair

Impostors at the Met Tosca

Last night's Tosca Act I was the most fraudulent act I've ever heard at the Met. Our intrepid Intrepid, Maria Guleghina, queen of big things, has never been comfortable in music not hovering above the staff, her sound tending to disappear behind the quietest orchestration no matter how much she pushes and thrashes around the passaggio. It is therefore a given that she would suck in Act I's love duet. So she did ... Having never been enamored by the first act of Tosca, I was prepared to "doze" through the blather soon after this muscular Floria Tosca screams her "Mario! Mario!" from backstage. I soon realized, however, that the evening wouldn't be a classic sonicfest I had hoped when Salvatore Licitra's Mario on-stage was actually megadecibels louder than our Tosca's pre-entrance lines ... Licitra's voice has some admirable angles, but the upper register doesn't bloom as one would like. He was OK. But Maria, dear Maria: I could sing the love duet much better than you. Did you need a score in front of you? Was the prompter deaf? And who was that "conductor" impersonating Maestro James Conlon? And why wasn't I told that it was the Met orchestra's day off, and that some OONY/NYCO rejects were filling in? The brass almost always fumbles, but the string section, the Met orchestra's sparkling jewel, failed to even sustain a lushly written Puccini moment (the easiest kind), much less an entire scene. It was all amateurish. (Later in the evening, the cello segment anticipating Cavaradossi's "E lucevan le stelle" in Act III made us all cringe.) The third principal, Mark Delavan, competent but unexciting in Scarpia's music, isn't the rescuing kind ... Of the 861 Toscas the Met has performed, last evening's first act must be the most grotesque and frightening. No one was left but Zeffirelli, whose lavish sets appeared to have saved the Met yet again. Things improved some in Acts II and III, I'm guessing by sheer chance ... But I'm not turning in my oceanliner fan club card just yet, for I suspect Guleghina is suffering from something. Physically, she was still all over the place, lunging at both Delavan and Licitra with characteristic abandon. (Entering Act III, she rushes in to embrace Licitra, who uses her massive momentum to lift her up in the air and pivot a few times.) However, her voice lacked its usual overbearing bulk, and my ears never hurt once all night. This will not be noticed during the coming Saturday radio broadcast; but when speaking about Guleghina, we care only for the unique kind of excess she brings live on stage, and when this is absent in a bread-and-butter like Tosca, the whole enterprise becomes a frustrating box of stale Ritz crackers ... But the sordid crime was the inept performance in the pit. The object in conducting an unnuanced work like Tosca is to not be noticed. Maestro Conlon, and the Met orchestra he was dealt, just plain sucked. I'm at a loss for words. They really, really sucked.

Let's hope Guleghina gets her groove back. Here she is during her curtain call, still standing.