In the opera business, people sometimes speak of an “ABC house”—a house that routinely produces Aida, La bohème, and Carmen, three of the most popular operas in the world (and for good reason). The Metropolitan Opera could be called an “ABT house”—and not just because the American Ballet Theatre has an annual season in that house. There is a lot of Tosca at the Met, in addition to Aida and Bohème (and Carmen).

Last night, the company opened another run of Tosca, Puccini’s masterpiece from 1900. It was the company’s 994th performance of the opera. They will pass one thousand this season.

I have said “masterpiece,” in reference to Tosca. More on this subject in due course.

Last season, the Met staged Tosca with a husband and wife in the leading roles: Aleksandra Kurzak, the Polish soprano, and Roberto Alagna, the Italian-French tenor. Kurzak served as Tosca last night, but without Alagna as her Cavaradossi. They are scheduled to appear together in the shows of October 31 and November 4.

Alagna was once married to another soprano, the Romanian star Angela Gheorghiu. The two were known as the “Love Couple.” As it happens, Gheorghiu is scheduled to sing a couple of Toscas at the Met next April. With Alagna beside her? Ha, no, good one. Her tenor will be Yusif Eyvazov, the husband of another tempestuous soprano, Anna Netrebko.

Opera singers often lead operatic lives.

Allow me to quote from my review last season:

I would not have thought of Aleksandra Kurzak as a Tosca—I would have thought her more a bel canto singer. But a Tosca, she is. The voice is not huge, but it is substantial and penetrating. She was a smart, smart Tosca, acting with her voice, as well as with the rest of her.

True. And she was very impressive last night. Sitting there, I thought, “Kurzak would never sing this role the same way twice.” She is a natural, she is spontaneous, she is effortlessly musical, and dramatic. But this does not mean the mechanics are not in place. The mechanics must be in place, before true spontaneity can occur.

Kurzak was never—never—uninteresting last night. Not for a moment.

Her tenor, her Cavaradossi, was Michael Fabiano, an American. He had a lot of supporters in the house. I am almost tempted to say “claque.” They applauded his entrance onstage, even though the Sacristan was singing. In Act II, after Fabiano’s cries of “Vittoria!” someone called out, “Bravo!”

Fabiano was indeed bravo throughout the evening. He has a beautiful voice, which can ring. He is an earnest actor, and he looked the part of Cavaradossi. Let’s pick on him for a bit.

In Act I, he committed some sharping, and on his big B flat, near the end of “Recondita armonia,” he was a little low (a little south of pitch). In Act III, he sang high pianos, but they were disembodied, drained of color.

But listen: high pianos from a tenor are not to be picked at. They are to be welcomed and applauded. As was Fabiano’s Cavaradossi overall.

Presiding in the pit was that veteran maestro Carlo Rizzi (who also opened the Met’s season with Medea). I barely noticed the conducting. This is because Rizzi was a servant of the score, a servant of Puccini. There was no personal, conductorial stamp on the opera. There was just Tosca. Every tempo was a tempo giusto—a right tempo. Phrasing was inarguable. Inevitable. The orchestra was warm, then stout, then thunderous.

Scarpia’s entrance, from Rizzi and the orchestra, was overwhelming. Memorably so.

Speaking of that tyrant: Scarpia was portrayed by Luca Salsi, the Italian baritone. He looked the part and he sounded the part. He had some intonation troubles in Act II, but nothing disqualifying. Scarpia is a brute, yes. A thug. But, as Salsi knows, he is also canny.

“Let me mention a singer in a small role,” I wrote last season. That was Patrick Carfizzi, doing the Sacristan. “This is mainly a comic role, and Carfizzi was duly comic. But he could not disguise the fact that he owns a beautiful bass-baritone or the fact that he sings well.”

Just the same was true last night.

The Met’s production is that of David McVicar from 2017, and Gina Lapinski is currently in charge of stage direction. I noticed several interesting touches, of which I will mention just one. Unless I have been asleep, over the years—over the decades—I don’t think I had ever seen Tosca take the portrait in her hands. The portrait of Mary Magdalene, which Cavaradossi is working on in the church. Not only did Kurzak take the portrait in her hands, she tossed it across the room—across the church—in disgust (or, more accurately, in jealousy).

When it comes to Tosca, and Puccini more generally, I like a story about Ravel. It is told by Manuel Rosenthal, Ravel’s student:

One day he was speaking to me in glowing terms about Puccini. And being the silly, impertinent young man I was, I started to sneer. At that Ravel flew into a towering rage, locked us both into his little studio at Monfort-l’Amaury and sat down at the piano. He then played me the whole of Tosca from memory, stopping about 50 times on the way to ask: “Have you anything to complain of about that passage? Look how good the harmony is, how he respects the form, what a clever, original, and interesting modulation there is in that tune.” Finally he took down the score to show me how perfect the orchestration is.

I have long observed that there are two groups of people who love Puccini: the “masses” and true musicians (such as other composers). The middlebrows, who have been mistaught—what can you do about them?

In any case, see Tosca whenever you can, and, if the cast, the conductor, the orchestra, and the production are good—so much the better.

A Message from the Editors

Your donation strengthens our efforts to preserve the gifts of our cultural heritage.