A ‘Tosca’ Makes Room for Two Prima Donnas

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lennygoran
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A ‘Tosca’ Makes Room for Two Prima Donnas

Post by lennygoran » Sat Jul 06, 2019 8:30 am

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I don't think I'll be able to make it to this production. Regards, Len :lol:


Review: A ‘Tosca’ Makes Room for Two Prima Donnas


By Joshua Barone

July 5, 2019

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France — The first thing we hear in Christophe Honoré’s new production of “Tosca” at the Aix Festival here is not the score’s thunderous opening chords, but “Vissi d’arte,” a rending aria from Act II about the life of a diva: “I lived for art, I lived for love.”

More specifically, what we’re hearing is a recording of the veteran soprano Catherine Malfitano singing “Vissi d’arte.” As the curtain rises, we see Ms. Malfitano herself, dressed in billowy black loungewear. She’s luxuriating in the sounds of herself as Tosca, inside a gracious villa decorated with a lifetime’s worth of awards, portraits and posters.

Puccini’s “Tosca,” this ain’t.

That’s because Mr. Honoré, best known as a film director, doesn’t seem interested in the libretto’s tale of a doomed diva, her lover and the police chief who meets his death trying to take her by force. Mr. Honoré’s campy and at times horrifying production, which opened here on Thursday, hinges instead on “Vissi d’arte” and the myth of the prima donna who lives entirely for music.


What happens when that music no longer comes easily, or when the public’s attention shifts elsewhere? These are questions for any great singer, including Ms. Malfitano, now in her 70s and her days as a reigning Tosca behind her. So here she is, a fictionalized version of herself, relishing the glories of the past yet also tortured by neuroses that recall Maria Callas and Norma Desmond, with the fiercely widened eyes to match.


Her character, the Prima Donna, is new to the opera. So is another role, the Butler (Jean-Frédéric Lemoues, crucial and frequently present, yet almost always silent). Mr. Honoré has taken other small liberties with the libretto. After the “Tosca” recording is turned off at the start, Mr. Lemoues tells Ms. Malfitano that the company they’re expecting has arrived. (Obvious echoes, here, of “Sunset Boulevard.”) She’s reluctant, but ultimately opens her doors to greet her visitors.

They are the cast of “Tosca,” in mufti and holding copies of the score, visiting for a run-through of the opera ahead of a concert staging in the Prima Donna’s honor. Our Tosca — the soprano Angel Blue, her voice warm and golden yet immensely powerful — is unassuming in jeans, a white V-neck T-shirt and a blue hoodie. Ms. Malfitano cues the maestro (Daniele Rustioni, not always as fleet as the score demands, leading the Orchestre de l’Opéra de Lyon), and the opera proper begins.

And so “Tosca” unfolds in the Prima Donna’s living room, with her coaching the singers. A documentary crew is present as well, their footage displayed live as projections above the set. Mr. Honoré has composed some gorgeous shots for them, including one moment when Tosca and her lover, Cavaradossi (Joseph Calleja, uneven but blazing at his best), are face to face and holding hands, their bodies framing Ms. Malfitano, looking on mournfully in the distance.

Ms. Malfitano’s Prima Donna can’t, however, quite bring herself to fully encourage Ms. Blue’s Tosca; Ms. Malfitano sings the role’s opening lines, quite ably considering her age, instead of Ms. Blue, and can regularly be seen mouthing and gesturing what she would do if she were onstage. (You may well recall Callas’s famed, charged master classes at the Juilliard School and the Terrence McNally play they inspired, “Master Class.”)


At one point, Ms. Malfitano’s Prima Donna stops the opera to effectively tell Ms. Blue, “Sing out, Louise!” This diva is clearly not ready to say goodbye to the spotlight, and when she does manage to take a seat on the sidelines, she slips into a reverie — conveyed onscreen by footage from her 1992 broadcast performance of “Tosca” with Plácido Domingo in Rome.

Mr. Honoré’s concept is persuasive at first, though it’s not always airtight. Why, for example, would the singer playing the prisoner Angelotti run out of the house when his character escapes? And why would the police chief, Scarpia (a hearty and at times dangerously honeyed Alexey Markov), make a big entrance rather than being with the others from the start? These concerns come off as secondary to the focus on the Prima Donna’s mental unwinding.

The loosening seams of her sanity become more urgently apparent at the end of Act I, when a children’s choir arrives for the “Te Deum” scene. Instead of processing with a crucifix, the crowd holds up a poster from Ms. Malfitano’s “Tosca” with the Royal Opera in London. But as the image of the diva is being exalted by the crowd, the woman herself is cowering in the corner of her bed, shaking and afraid.

From there, Mr. Honoré’s production becomes wobbly, but also entertainingly over the top, with the dark touches of a psychosexual thriller. Few things add up, and some turns are recklessly provocative, such as the blurred lines between rehearsal and reality that leave the audience unsure of how to process acts of violence.

Other moments, however, are inspired.

Take how Mr. Honoré stages “Vissi d’arte” and what follows. While Ms. Blue sings the aria, gloriously, the Butler hands her a replica of the dress that Callas once wore as Tosca. As Ms. Blue finishes, she steps into the red and gold gown; once in drab streetwear, she is now, having triumphed in the aria, a true diva. Later, her hands red with Scarpia’s “blood,” she wipes them on the face and white gown of Ms. Malfitano, now demoted to a supporting player and assuming the traditional position of Scarpia’s corpse, laid between two candlesticks.

Ryan Murphy couldn’t have staged better this quietly acerbic, diva-on-diva aggression.


What is left to live for after this? For the Prima Donna, nothing. In Act III, we see Ms. Malfitano ever more dissociative, stalking the concert performance of “Tosca” with a cane, wearing an outrageously voluminous wig and a flowing red gown and cape. Through the cameras we see her eyes, abysses of insanity, as she places figurines on a model of the Castel Sant’Angelo to the side of the stage.

As the opera reaches its climax, Ms. Malfitano climbs stage scaffolding, where, as Cavaradossi is executed, she slits her wrists. During the final bars we hear her groaning — a bit too loudly, like a bad actor — over the music until she collapses, limply and lifelessly, onto a railing.

This may seem like a cheap move for a production that otherwise does have some psychological nuance. But it’s the archetypal end for a mercurial diva, the kind of stereotypical finish that Callas fought against in her final interview in 1976, when she said the public wouldn’t shake the image of her as a prima donna.

She knew her life was more nuanced than that. But, she said ruefully, that wouldn’t make for good headlines.

Tosca

Through July 22 at the Théâtre de l’Archevêché, Aix-en-Provence, France; festival-aix.com.



https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/05/arts ... eview.html

maestrob
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Re: A ‘Tosca’ Makes Room for Two Prima Donnas

Post by maestrob » Sat Jul 06, 2019 12:09 pm

Weird! I think I'll stay away also! :mrgreen:

John F
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Re: A ‘Tosca’ Makes Room for Two Prima Donnas

Post by John F » Sat Jul 06, 2019 12:47 pm

It was bound to happen: a Eurotrash production that messes with the music too.

But it's nice to have news of Catherine Malfitano, even if I'd like to have had better news than this.
John Francis

barney
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Re: A ‘Tosca’ Makes Room for Two Prima Donnas

Post by barney » Sat Jul 06, 2019 6:10 pm

I wonder whether they'd like to stage my "Tosca in the Shower". The score is heavily truncated, and the notes are right only by accident, but art is art!

lennygoran
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Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 9:28 pm
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Re: A ‘Tosca’ Makes Room for Two Prima Donnas

Post by lennygoran » Sat Jul 06, 2019 7:32 pm

John F wrote:
Sat Jul 06, 2019 12:47 pm
It was bound to happen: a Eurotrash production that messes with the music too.
Is that what they mean by going down a slippery slope? Regards, Len :(

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