Lontano, lontano I. Tosca METinée 2021.XII.05
Updated: Apr 24
Impressions of a Tosca Sunday METinée starring Radvanovsky, Jagde, Gagnidze
2021.XII.05 Sunday (METinée)
Angelotti • Kevin Short
Sagrestano • Patrick Carfizzi
Cavaradossi • Brian Jagde
Tosca • Sondra Radvanovsky
Scarpia • George Gagnidze
Spoletta • Tony Stevenson
Sciarrone • Christopher Job
Carceriere • Adam Lau
direttore • Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Witnessed from «up in the gods» at a Sunday afternoon Met Tosca («METinée»), the truest full-body living-in-the-moment actions on that stage occurred during the curtain calls:
George Gagnidze (Vitellio Scarpia) emanating great warmth –
Brian Jagde (Mario Cavaradossi) obviously moved and pressing his hands to his heart –
Sondra Radvanovsky (Floria Tosca) ebullient to return after two-&-three-quarters' years to the company that invested in her perfezionamento –
and company music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin (glitteringly arrayed) encouraging the principals to take second helpings of solo bow.
Byplay: in the company bows, YNS linked his right hand with Gagnidze even though that hand also held his baton. Although said baton did not make contact with Gagnidze, the two men must have realized it was a close call; YNS couldn't resist wielding the baton to mimic stabbing Gagnidze (to mutual mirth).
• Bravo Tony Stevenson, decisive of gesture, tone, and text as Spoletta, each sound sent out into the house with purpose.
• Both Christopher Job (Sciarrone) and Adam Lau (il carceriere, in his second Met performance) proved ample of projection and vibrato.
• It's no small responsibility being the first voice we hear in any opera, and that responsibility was carried by the Angelotti of Kevin Short. Robust tones, strong articulation of each individual syllable; the unguarded flow of a fluent Italian speaker is not his to command—yet. May he see fit to invest such linguistic work as to enhance his singing as well as abandoning the off-pitch emphases with which he marks certain accented syllables, a habit which detracts from the inherent quality of his voice.
• Were one to speak of «vocal flavors», veteran Patrick Carfizzi as il sagrestano offers a touch of Fernando Corena's tone yet without that beloved performer's penchant for exaggeration (gigionismo: ham acting). Carfizzi filled out his role with composure, no stage campery, never oversinging, none of that «throwing the voice in the direction of the pitch and missing», his voice steady of pitch and vibration: bravo!
As a character and as a role Vitellio Scarpia is defined by treachery, both because of the character's own venality and because of the role's responsibilities theatrically (actively victimizing Mario and Floria alike) and vocally (the need to project over consistently heavy orchestration). Such responsibilities tempt performers to impose the character upon the audience by stooping to tiresome stratagems: striding onstage with a vampiric gait, enacting a caricature of a foul-tempered lecher, hollering in gross regard of the pitches that Puccini meticulously set, even adopting the affected nasal stage accent known as «birignao».
(The postwar master of birignao, from whose throat it can even sound endearing, in the Te Deum: Tito Gobbi.
And the converse of a foul-tempered lecher, Mario Sammarco countering Emma Carelli's iron lady Floria with uncommon hilarity, in a recording made three years after Tosca's premiere.
Credit to George Gagnidze, a Vitellio of Met several seasons, for keeping his cool even when executing such obligatory staging excesses as wrenching Floria by the hair and mounting a prone Radvanovsky. Of all the principals, Gagnidze was the most comfortable in Italian, his tonal emission and textual articulation complementing each other, and one appreciates his trying for tenderness—finessing the high E of «è vin di Spagna» and caressing the phrase «Si adempia il voler vostro» prior to signing the salvacondotto.
During the curtain calls YNS did not literally stab Scarpia avec sa baguette, but during the performance the conductor allowed the Met orchestra and chorus to pour out such sound as to camouflage Gagnidze's utterances, the Te Deum a case in point. (More detail about YNS's conducting below.)
Placed so far upstage for «Recondita armonia» that he was not visible from my vantage point, Brian Jagde's voice at first seemed to be travelling through a wind tunnel. Once he was able to occupy downstage, I was surprised to discern a timbral similarity to Franco Bonisolli
Jagde's is a strong sound, he's well-practiced as Mario, and yet one would like to hear him more deeply within the role. The text is well-learned but the vowels /o/, /ɔ/, and /u/ are not clearly defined, and his vocabulary of inflections is limited—pressing on the tone for emphasis but nary a nuance of tender passion.
(The howl of pain concluding Mario's torture was deliciously lurid, but is it uttered by any of the tenors in this Tosca series or does the Met specifically engage a howler?)
On Jagde's unaccompanied sustained acuti (e.g. B-natural «La vita mi costasse», A-sharps «Vit-to-ri-a!»), the vibrato rate is regular-to-quick but the pitch oscillation is wide, almost spanning a half-step under the intended pitch: bug or feature?
This performance marked a quarter-century almost to the day of Sondra Radvanovsky's 1996 December 09 Met debut as Rigoletto's Contessa Ceprano. Discussing her musico-vocal and scenic efforts as discrete entities is a challenge, so entwined were they, most movingly in a large-scale vulnerable «Vissi d'arte».
Her theatrical taste skews towards television, sitcom in the amorously humorous moments and reality TV in the high-stakes ones. The antithesis of the humorless Tosca imperiosa, she exhibited a cherishable daffiness in Acts I and III—mouthing along with Mario's «Mia vita, amante inquieta ecc.» as if it were a frequent heartwarming speech mutually learned by heart; inviting one further kiss from Mario at «È tanto buona!» then mischievously waving fingers to the Madonna («Hail, Mary!»); and prior to the execution, demonstrating «con scenica scïenza io saprò la movenza» by playing mock-dead. She habitually underlined her verbal communication with left hand motions—wagging in admonishment to Mario, gesturing outward in spreading motion, and slightly shaking it to indicate ambivalence («così cosà»)—and late in Act II, when she occupied her left hand with a wineglass, she continued likewise with her right!
Vocal interpolations: Radvanovsky dabbed the role with such spoken ad libs as
• «Sì!» in assent to other characters' statements
• «Grazie!» in response to Scarpia's «Portatelo qui»
• In response to Mario's «Prezioso elogio», immediately preceding «Ridi? quegli occhi celestrini già li vidi», the wry laugh of self-deprecation known in French as «un rire jaune»: a yellow laugh
• Immediately after «T'odio, t'odio, abbietto, vile!», the yowl when Vitellio wrenched her by the hair
• Crowning her Mediterranean Fishwife Bawl «Sogghigno di demone!» with an indignant «Hœuh!»
(One thought back to Rosa Ponselle's interjections in her 1935 Traviata broadcast and had to wonder what effect they made at theatrical distance.)
E poi c'è il canto: uniquely among the cast, Radvanovsky's is an omnidirectional sound which projects to all corners of the theatre no matter where she faces, particularly in her top register. She rejoiced in the role's topmost tones, Bs and Cs alike, sustaining the penultimate C («Ah!» as Mario is dragged away in Act II) for two bars, across the orchestra's audible change of harmony. At the opposite end of her range, Radvanovsky spiced some of Floria's lowest reaches with pithy risonanza di petto, hiking it up just the once to middle F on «Oh Dio!» in response to Scarpia. (Immediately further up the scale, matters were less decisive: lower-middle-voice parlando phrases uttered without the beneficial reinforcement of chest resonance, and mid-voice vowels morphing in tuning and pronunciation while being sustained.)
A matter of theatrical taste: I should have liked to see greater need between Floria and Mario, particularly in the final act where their rapport seemed comfortably content, absent the bittersweetness of a life's treasure almost lost forever yet won back against all odds.
The Met choral forces, adult and children alike, were vivid of physical and acoustic presence, gradually erecting an exhilarating wall of sound in the Te Deum. YNS turned to the orchestra with open arms, never gesturing to them to temper their sound, allowing for acoustic raw power at the expense of longterm dynamic gradation. Two outstanding examples:
1. Act I, Te Deum: The piece automatically gains in volume throughout by virtue of accumulating orchestral and choral layers. The acoustic obstacle Gagnidze faced could have been mitigated if the ensemble's dynamics had been balanced with an ear towards Scarpia's solo line. (Wisely, Gagnidze did not force.)
2. Act II, Rehearsal #28 Andante sostenuto «No, ma il vero potrebbe abbreviargli un'ora assai penosa»: The chilling moment when Puccini introduces D minor into the second act's harmonic palette could have gained in potency if the whole act leading up to it had been played with greater dynamic light-and-shade. Even in a Tosca scaled for the expanses of the Met, there's value in cunning understatement.