My brother Patrick, my mom, and I saw *Tosca* at the Met on 1/3/18. Richard and I had bought tickets to see this in April, starring our beloved Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, but Patrick planned a trip to New York to surprise my mother, expressly so he could see HIS beloved Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva as Tosca.
Patrick first experienced Yoncheva at an HD screening of *La Traviata* in 2016. He checked out more of her music, signed up for her Instagram feed, and basically put himself on her wavelength. He heard that she was doing a new production of *Tosca* at the Met, so he used that as the central point of a trip with our mom.
I had heard Yoncheva twice before, in *Rigoletto* in 2013 and at the 50th anniversary gala last May. I also checked out some of her *Traviata* when it was on PBS. Clearly she's a major new artist, someone to watch. I bought a ticket for *Tosca* the night that Mom and Patrick were going.
*Tosca* is a Puccini opera from 1900, based on a French play written for Sarah Bernhardt. There are three main characters: Tosca (soprano) is an opera diva. It's interesting how few operas are about opera singers. She's the ultimate. Cavaradossi (tenor) is Tosca's boyfriend, a painter and political dissident. And Scarpia (baritone) is the chief of police, after both Cavaradossi (for political reasons) and Tosca (for naughty reasons). The opera is violent, overripe, tense, delicious.
Patrick's dearest wish was to meet Yoncheva backstage after the performance. I enlisted the help of my friend Kari, a cellist in the Met Orchestra (you may have read the interview I did with her this summer). She wasn't sure she'd be able to help with that, but offered to meet us at intermission and take us to the orchestra level. I'd never done that, so that sounded pretty special to me. In the meantime, Patrick wrote Yoncheva at the Met. He heard back from someone in the Met management, more or less saying no, but offering him and Mom a complimentary backstage tour. So that was all pretty wonderful.
We checked out a little exhibit at the Met Gallery before going into the house, it was nice to see a model of the set and various drawings, sketches, etc. Clearly this new production was going to be a big improvement over the crappy production Richard and I saw at the Met in 2013.
Patrick got the two of them fantastic seats in a box, on the parterre level. I hung out with them for a while and then went to my seat up in the nosebleeds!
The production was indeed glorious. The sets are opulent, and director David McVicar once again proved himself one of the strongest directors at the Met. I've seen his *Trovatore,* *Anna Bolena,* *Maria Stuarda,* *Roberto Devereux,* and *Norma.* His productions are imaginative but never goofy. He's not there to show us how clever he is, a lesson some other directors could learn. I was most impressed with his work in the second act: the staging, set design, and lighting design all worked together to draw focus on the story and build up the tension. It was very exciting.
Yoncheva was head and shoulders above the other two leading singers. Her voice was luscious and full of color, her singing was creamy but still gutsy when needed. Her performance was totally committed, exciting, but never stagy or phony. She has an honesty that's refreshing in a role that's often too grand and overdone.
Željko Lučić was Scarpia. His voice is nice and big, and clearly he knows what he's doing, but I want more elegance in this part. His singing was a little rough around the edges, and while Scarpia is a sadist, he has more depth when he's silky in his sadism. Somewhat off topic, am I the only person in the audience who thought of Harvey Weinstein in the second act? Scarpia spends much of the act chasing Tosca around his office, bargaining with her, trying to get her to agree to have sex with him in exchange for releasing her boyfriend.
SPOILER ALERT: continue reading after the asterisk if you don't want to have part of the plot revealed.
Tosca can't take any more of Scarpia, so after he (seemingly) agrees to help her boyfriend, she stabs him and kills him. I was thinking of Weinstein during the quid pro quo scene, but thought of Rose McGowan when I saw what Tosca says after she's killed him:
Is your blood choking you?
And killed by a woman!
Did you torment me enough?
Can you still hear me? Speak!
Look at me! I am Tosca!
Even her final line of the act had a Weinstein flavor: "And all of Rome trembled before him." Substitute "Hollywood" for "Rome."
* * *
Vittorio Grigolo was Cavaradossi. Here's how I described his performance at the Met's 50th anniversary gala in May:
"He's smug. Performers of the world, take note - - there's nothing worse I can say. He did all these cheap, gooey things with his voice and flung himself about like he was doing a number staged by Hermes Pan in an MGM musical. Of course I love that in the movies, but not on the stage of the Met. The audience went wacko for him, and he soaked it all up, like we were spilled coffee and he was a handful of Bounty paper towels."
He was less offensive in this, since he was playing a role in the context of a complete opera performance, he wasn't just doing an aria like he did at the gala. But he was still way too gooey, he did lots of gulping and mugging. He's playing to the gallery - - I'm sitting in the gallery, and I don't like it. Worst of all, his bows! He came out, spread out his arms, bowed a few times. Then he went down on one knee and spun his arms around like a windmill. I've never seen anything like it, it was disgusting. It was like he was saying, "Yes, here I am, aren't I wonderful!"
The performance was marvelous, but the highlight of the evening was our backstage access. My friend Kari, the cellist, met us at the first intermission. I introduced her to Patrick and Mom and she said:
KARI: Did you get my email?
ME: No, I haven't checked my email.
KARI: You're going backstage after the show to meet Yoncheva.
I was afraid Patrick was going to pass out. Or maybe I was afraid *I* was going to pass out! Thankfully my mother had her sh-t together, and so did Kari! Kari brought us down to the orchestra pit - - we stepped over a couple of bass fiddles and stood in the pit, looking out into the house. Unbelievable.
She brought us through another backstage area where they were housing the set for *The Merry Widow,* which they had performed the night before and were doing again at the end of the week. It's incredible how big the space is, and how complicated. She finished by showing us where we would go after the show, for our visit with Yoncheva.
Mom, Patrick, and I met up after the show and made our way backstage. There were two young women there to see Yoncheva, and about six or eight people to see Grigolo. We stood around waiting outside their dressing rooms doors. A few of the singers in smaller parts walked by and smiled. Lučić walked by and smiled, we told him he was wonderful. Grigolo's door opened and his people went into his dressing room.
Yoncheva's door opened and a terrifically handsome man ushered in the two young women. He was Yoncheva's husband. He came out after a few minutes and asked if we were waiting to speak with Sonya. We talked with him for a while, Patrick talked a mile a minute in Spanish (her husband is from Venezuela). He was charming. He's a conductor, he's making his Met debut conducting *L'Elisir d'Amore* at the Met later this month. He went back into Yoncheva's dressing room.
Patrick asked that I take a picture of her dressing room door. The second picture is an enlargement of the first, you can just barely make out her name on the door.
Grigolo's visitors left. A few minutes went by and Grigolo came out into the hallway and looked around, clearly disappointed that no one else was waiting around to talk to him. He walked over to us, basically inviting us to gush all over him. It was a riot.
More waiting. Here are a few cute pictures of us waiting:
Yoncheva came out and we talked with her for five or ten minutes. She could not have been sweeter or more gracious. Patrick told her how much her singing means to him, and she was genuinely touched by that. I told her I was looking forward to hearing her in *Luisa Miller* this spring and she encouraged me to visit her backstage after the performance. So you can bet I'll be doing that! I asked her permission to take a picture with Patrick, and of course she said yes.
Patrick and I were both walking on a cloud when we left. My mother was walking in her shoes.