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December 22, 2009

Latest twist on that reviled 'Tosca' at the Met

This is rather funny, actually. Dan Wakin, the intrepid New York Times reporter who covers (and uncovers) the classical music scene, reports that "the Metropolitan Opera is considering bringing back its Franco Zeffirelli production of 'Tosca' next season to run in tandem with the new version directed by Luc Bondy, which was introduced to boos and reviewer scorn in September."

My favorite line is the one where Met general manager Peter Gelb "stressed

that the possible return of the Zeffirelli 'Tosca' was unconnected to the response to the Bondy production."

We apparently won't know until February, when next season's lineup is announced, whether the lavish, audience-pleasing Zeffirelli extravaganza will return, but I'd be tempted to bet on it. Of course, there's a technical reason being given for the possible reprise for the old set, having to do with backstage facilities during the time the Met will be introducing a new "Ring" Cycle, but it's hard not to suspect that this is a case of patron revenge.

Those who could not stomach the Bondy version of "Tosca" -- the booing on opening night could be heard all the way to East Orange, New Jersey -- have no doubt been directing fire at Met officials ever since. Any company that tries something new, whether unfamiliar repertoire or a fresh concept applied to standard fare, faces a backlash if it doesn't go down well with the core, invariably conservative constituency.

It's hard to imagine the Met actually allowing the public a choice between two productions of "Tosca" or any other work during the same season. I wouldn't be at all surprised if we eventually hear that, gee, we're having a little glitch with that Bondy set, so we'll just go with Zeffirelli's after all.

Even as things stand now, with only the possibility of a revival, it suggests a curious lack of courage in one's convictions. I suppose if I felt Bondy's "Tosca" (broadcast last week on PBS) was really a horror show, I'd be putting the champagne on ice now. But I still think some folks, especially some of my distinguished colleagues, doth protest too much. What a curious place the opera world can be.

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:00 AM | | Comments (2)


Dear Mr. Smith: I am one of those "conservative" Met patrons who saw the Luc Bondy Tosca this fall. Having seen,and been thrilled by,several of the Met's "new productions", I can safely say that my objections are not necessarily that this Tosca is "untraditional". Rather, I found it to be simply change for the sake of change,lacking in soul, heart, creativity or true passion. In my humble opinion, Puccini deserved a much better effort. I am glad to hear the old production might be coming back, as I was not planning on seeing Tosca again at the Met so long as the Bondy production was in force. Teresa

Thanks for the comments, Teresa. I readily confess greater tolerance for different takes on standard rep than many folks. And, as I tried to explain way back when I first wrote about this production (I caught up with it in early October), I believe that Bondy had some interesting insights into the title character, especially her combination of volatility and guilt. Having Tosca stab the painting was, for example, a particularly strong statement, as it underlined how she could become impassioned enough to stab a human as well. I also said I didn't buy everything (some of the stage business could be dispensed with and only Bondy's feelings would be hurt). There were powerful things going on theatrically (for me), and I just couldn't get so worked up about stuff like the missing candlesticks at the end of Act 2. I didn't miss the visual opulence, either, finding the starkness a convincing way to refocus attention on the drama. Ultimately, I think that if the Met believed in the production enough to put it on stage, on opening night no less, then it should stick to its guns, at least for a couple seasons. I do understand, however, that the public cannot be thoroughly dismissed by any arts organization in this country. It will be interesting to see what happens next. TIM

In the meantime you should check out the outstanding La Boheme while it's being shown over the next few days on MPT or WETA. This is a superb film of Puccini's masterpiece in a very authentic production. There's no messing around, here.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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