20 September 2005

Gheorghiu's Tosca

I didn't realize that the Met Prima Tosca Act II was Angela Gheorghiu's first Floria on stage, but looking back there were indications that she was still feeling her way around the role. Nonetheless, the lady's out to make it her own. She comes in red-gowned with a train so long it has its own train; Tosca is singing her first lines while the last yards of her train are still making an entrance. Meaning, La Gheorghiu brings her own couture, or has it made-to-order'ed, acting here every inch the diva she is over across the Atlantic. Let us see if she does a Fleming and has new frock sown for her Spring Violettas. (Close friend Peter Gelb might oblige; Joe Volpe shall be left holding the wig.) She must also now hate to sing with fellow-diva Bryn Terfel, that scene stealing stooge who can out-overact Jerry Lewis. Levine's heart and attention now appear closer to Boston on I-95 than New York, and you could hear his baton say "I don't care, this is bullshit" during Scarpia's monologues, which had the feel of Terfel auditioning for the Met Wotan. All the dramatic pauses, the lengthening of phrases and notes, the sluggish, empty spectacle (wasn't even campy, so totally nothing for Sieglinde there)-- the pace is deadly. What's a girl like Gheorghiu to do but match this brute's show. Finally, Terfel loses steam and almost fails to cap Scarpia's monologue following the "Quanto? Il Prezzo" exchange. Meanwhile, Gheorghiu gets tired of that crap and shifts gears for her "Vissi d'arte," adopting a brisker pace she's wanted from the beginning. This is why, according to Tommasini, "she inhabited her own time world" during her aria. So you now know, boys, where to send the hate mail. Meanwhile, Gheorghiu has none of that Floria-on-the-floor schtick and instead begins her aria upright unbowed, but ends it gazing to the heavens kneeling. Not quite as effective as protocol, but she again lets you know she has her own take on things. Vocally, she is what she is: a lyric with a foundation of emerald, cool and spicy, rough on the edges but never off-pitch, intense, of medium heft with a formidable fierce top and patched up chest. (I disagree with assessments on opera-l that the Met is too big for her voice; sitting where I always sit, I thought she commanded the space as well as a prime Carol Vaness Tosca.) Chestwise, she suffers in the way most middle-aged sopranos do: plunging to the middle and chest she quickly loses support; however, if the vocal line begins in the middle or lower middle, she can fake it as well as anyone. Tonally, the "Vissi d'arte" is actually ravishing, if one can hear beyond the sudden jolt of tempo. Her arching "Ah!"s that trail Scarpia's lines are bone-chilling, as are her "muori!"s. One misstep is to do slapstick and lift and drop Scarpia's lifeless hand by the thumb while uttering her last lines "E avanti a lui tremava tutta Roma!" Meanwhile, no throwing the crucifix on Scarpia's body for the last haunting cadence. During her thunderous curtain call, she waves to all sides enthusiastically, and stays a few seconds longer than her ovation can withstand. It's evident she relishes Big Apple love. I can't see her eyes from where I sit, but I imagine they have the same look as the Clintons' in their visits to the White House. "Not bad, not bad at all," we all say in unison.