By Nestor Mata
NEW YORK – I promised myself that the first thing I’d do on my arrival here for my annual sabbatical was to attend the opening night at the Metropolitan Opera. Alas, I missed the premiere presentation of “Tosca”, but I caught glimpses of Puccini’s operatic opus as broadcast in Times Square with New York’s opera goers who couldn’t get hold of tickets on time to watch one of the beloved war horses in the operatic repertory.
The new cast, headed by the charismatic soprano Karita Mattila in the title role and the passionate tenor Marcelo Alvarez as her lover in the role of “Cavaradossi,” were rewarded by the audience, inside the Met and outside in Times Square, with enormous ovations. But to my utter surprise, when Swiss-born director Luc Bondy and the production team appeared on the stage during the curtain calls, the audience also erupted in boos, drowning out the cheers of the audiences.
They were reacting to Mr. Bondy’s staging of the work with its stark, spare, cold sets, quite in contrast with the familiar theatrical touches that opera-goers were used to see in past productions. Unlike Franco Zefferelli’s, they missed for instance seeing the scene when Tosca placed candles by the body of the villain Scarpia after she killed him, and she didn’t leap to her death at the end. Instead what they saw was how the avant garde director Bondy fleshed out the eroticism of the lovers (Tosca and Cavaradossi) and the lecherous Scarpia, a staging that replaced Zefferelli’s 1985 production (which I saw then), a grand realistic and thoroughly traditional show that delighted audiences in the past.
“Tosca”—- together with “Turandot” and “Madame Butterfly” is, as I noted above, “one of the most beloved war horses in the operatic repertory.”
During Act I, according to music critic Anthony Tommasini, effectively contained Scarpia’s (played by baritone George Gagnindze) ruthlessness under the guise of aristocratic bearing. At the opening scene of Act II, as directed by Mr. Bondy, Scarpia is having dinner in an eerie room at the Palazzo Farnese, having an orgy with three voluptuous women, and singing his sexual credo that the conquest of beauties is what turns him on, with the women pawing his chest and stroking his groin. And then Scarpia plots how to destroy Cavaradossi, a republican rebel, and conquer Tosca.
Soprano Mattita?s voice was cool and gleaming. And in Act III, when she tells Cavaradossi of having stabbed Scarpia to death, she leapt to a high C with ferocious intensity. As Cavaradossi, tenor Alvarez sang ardently, and with a warm, throbbing voice, hit his high notes, including a high A sharp when he sang “Vittoria” on hearing the news of Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Marengo.
It was doubtless a first-rate “Tosca.”
As I watched and listened to the performance of “Tosca,” I told myself that my dear friend Odette Alcantara would have loved to see the opera performance.
She was an opera lover, too, and she could hum some favorite arias from “Tosca”, “Aida,” “Turandot”, “La Boheme”, and many other operatic works.
It made me sad, again, remembering her untimely demise and we, her friends, artists, writers and environmentalists, didn’t have a chance to bid her goodbye.
@9PTCA = ***
My granddaughter Misay, beloved by Odette ever since she was “that high,” emailed me, “I hope you’re not taking Lola O’s passing with a heavy heart (I do, dearest apo!)…and the recent calamity (referring to typhoon “Ondoy” and its disastrous effects in Metro Manila and Luzon provinces) would serve as a wake-up call for everybody and her environmental efforts will be realized, seen, and practiced.”
She was alluding to Odette’s passionate environmental campaign, including her successful lobbying, with other environmentalists, for the passage of the Clean Air Act and the Solid Waste Management Act, her relentless fight against landfills and incinerators, the pollution of the air, lakes, rivers and seas, the indiscriminate logging, the greening of the environment and the conservation of trees and forests.
Like her and other environmentalists, artists, and singers, Odette, aka “doyenne of the mini-cultural center” that is her Heritage Art Center and home in Blue Ridge, “audacious defender of Mother Earth,” will surely miss her, and her innumerable friends and admirers, sons and grandchildren, will always remember in their hearts their beloved “Lola O.”