Review: Met HD: Tosca

Emmanuel Villaume

It was only two weeks ago that I saw Jonathan Kent's ninth revival of Tosca at the Royal Opera House with Joseph Calleja, Gerald Finley and Adrianne Pieczonka (my thoughts here). Now I'm reporting about another production of Tosca based in a different continent. One cannot deny how Puccini's music enraptures us and that's one of the major reasons why Tosca has remained a repertoire staple for many international opera houses.

The Met HD live performance of Tosca was like a Super Bowl event. This Saturday, Sonya Yoncheva headlined the lead role in her first ever performance of Puccini's Tosca. Vittorio Grigolo also made his debut and melted our hearts with a photograph of him as the shepherd boy with Pavarotti, as Cavaradossi, in Mauro Bolognini's production, taken almost 30 years ago.

The opera broadcast streamed to 900 cinemas and figures, confirmed on Sunday night, claimed it had grossed $2 million at the box office. It's a proud figure for the Met Opera, but it raises questions about the price of the cinema tickets. Watching it from the capital, Londoners paid between £30-37 for Met HD tickets, which is more than its sister opera house across the pond at London's Covent Garden, showcasing live ballet and opera performances for £20-23.

The moment I entered Chelsea's Curzon Cinema, the foyer was full to the brim. I haven't experienced a sold-out Met HD event in a while especially for a cinema with a capacity of 713 seats. From the silver screens we, at the Curzon, could hear the cheering and wolf whistling from the halls of the New York Met.

It wasn't just a first time for Grigolo and Yoncheva, even the staging was brand new and glossy. The production belongs to director David McVicar yet its designer John Macfarlane made sure the audience got exactly what they wanted - a grand, traditional setting. In an interview with The New York Times, the Met's general manager Peter Gelb said, ‘when it comes with a classic piece of repertoire, beauty counts...' In 2018, the Met stages Tosca in Rome's decadent and religious centre. Set during the Napoleonic era it features a sculpture of Archangel Michael, 77 rolls of gold leaf, 1,557 square-feet of fresco and monumental Baroque church interiors. Macfarlane said 80% of the design budget was spent on costumes alone in an interview at the live HD event.

From what I could hear from the Curzon's stereo speakers, conductor Emmanuel Villaume brought the sweet colours of Tosca and Cavaradossi's romance to life. The surge of intense drama was tightly woven together too. The tireless Met Opera orchestra gave a well balanced reading of Puccini's score. They neatly moved from one mood to another, from the tenderness of the lovers' duet, the loud and bold introduction of the sadistic Scarpia and the opera's bloody conclusion. Their performance of Te Deum with the Met's chorus singers sent chills down my spine.

 Read the rest of the review here