Roberto Alagna has sung with a wife on the Met stage before. In fact, he was married on that stage, in 1996—to Angela Gheorghiu, the Romanian soprano. (Alagna is an Italian-French tenor.) Presiding over the ceremony was Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Interesting things have happened in the lives of all three since.
Alagna is now married to Aleksandra Kurzak, a Polish soprano. They appeared at the Met last night in Tosca, Puccini’s opera. In the 2020–21 season (such as it was, given COVID), the pair performed a concert for the Met, livestreamed from France. Let me quote what I wrote, because it very much applies to last night:
About the singing, I will make some general remarks. Aleksandra Kurzak was immaculate all evening long. She was in beautiful voice, she was utterly secure in technique, and she was near faultless in musical expression. Can we be candid here? The series is called “Met Stars Live in Concert.” Alagna is the star. The missus was along for the ride. His name came first on the billing—the tenor’s, not the soprano’s, which is rare, and almost wrong. But Kurzak sang like a star.
The very same was true of last night.
I further wrote that Alagna is “an uneven tenor,” who was uneven in the concert.
Sometimes he was effortful—tense and shouty. When he gets this way, I want to tell him, “Relax. Trust your talent. There is no need to overexert yourself. You have plenty of voice and any number of gifts. Just let it happen”—which, of course, he did, when he was at his best here. And always, he is a winning personality.
In Tosca’s Act I, Alagna oversang. Why he does this, I don’t know. It’s like he has some fear of being thought too small a tenor. He is not, certainly for Cavaradossi (his role in Tosca). “Recondita armonia” came off as too much work—but the tenor was noble in it. He was in better voice during Act II. His cries of “Vittoria!” were splendid. In Act III, he started with some wobbly intonation. “E lucevan le stelle” was rough—but it was full of pathos. Alagna was brave, in his high soft singing. He was willing to be “exposed.” Willing to be rough around the edges.
And Alagna always “gives good value,” to borrow a phrase I learned from Paul Johnson, the British writer (who learned it from his teacher, A. J. P. Taylor). In my experience, Alagna never phones in a performance. He gives an audience his all, every time. That is no small thing in an opera singer, or any other performer.
Plus, Alagna looks the same as always, at least from my seat. He seems to retain every hair on his head.
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. You will want to know about “Vissi d’arte,” Tosca’s big aria, and I will tell you: it was superb. Kurzak seemed to be thinking about what she was singing, instead of presenting an aria, if you know what I mean. The character was thinking things through “in real time.” I have seldom heard so effective a “Vissi d’arte,” and Kurzak sang the aria while kneeling.
Scarpia? He was Željko Lučić, the veteran Serb. For years, I have called him “savvy” and “canny.” He is. He is also a very good singer, simply in pure singing terms. As Scarpia, he was brutish and tyrannical, sure. But he was also sly, aristocratic, seductive. He got every aspect of the character’s villainy.
Before I get to the conducting, let me mention a singer in a small role: Patrick Carfizzi as 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.
In the pit was the Met’s music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. He had an outstanding night on Monday in Verdi’s Don Carlos; he had another one last night in Tosca. The structure and momentum of the opera were in his hands. The score had its beauty, horror, and tragedy. The story was told through the playing, as well as the singing and acting. Let me provide a few details.
Scarpia’s entrance music was fabulous. In the torture scene, you heard what I can only call violent grandeur. The legato under the voice in “Vissi d’arte” was exemplary. When Scarpia offered Tosca a sip of Spanish wine, you heard that evil charm in the orchestra. And, you know? The last note of the opera can be held too long. Nézet-Séguin cut it off just as one should.
The production is that of 2017 by Sir David McVicar. The production of Don Carlos, seen on Monday, is a new one by Sir David. Each production serves the opera, which may seem like a low bar but which is, in my estimation, very high. When you have seen this McVicar Tosca—you have seen a Tosca. A real one.
Can you see Tosca again, if you’re a veteran operagoer and have seen it a thousand times? Oh, yes. That’s one definition of a masterpiece: it is unstaling. And when the performance is a good one—all the better.