Behind the Scenes of ‘Tosca,’ the Messiest Production in Met History

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lennygoran
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Behind the Scenes of ‘Tosca,’ the Messiest Production in Met History

Post by lennygoran » Thu Dec 28, 2017 7:15 am

These sets look great if you can link and see the photos-I'm excited! Regards, Len :D

Behind the Scenes of ‘Tosca,’ the Messiest Production in Met History

By MICHAEL COOPER DEC. 28, 2017


There is never a shortage of backstage drama at the Metropolitan Opera. But in the company’s 137-year history, there has likely never been a production with a birth as tumultuous as that of the high-stakes new staging of Puccini’s “Tosca,” opening on New Year’s Eve.

With opulent sets evoking 19th-century Rome and a starry cast, the new “Tosca” was meant to appeal to operagoers still lamenting the loss, nine years ago, of a beloved Franco Zeffirelli extravaganza that had been playing since the 1980s. But the company watched in horror as a series of unfortunate events cost the staging its original heroine, hero, villain and maestro. In a field in which singers are typically hired up to five years in advance, the Met had to quickly draft a pair of fast-rising stars, the soprano Sonya Yoncheva and the tenor Vittorio Grigolo, who have never before sung the roles.

But the most severe blow landed this month, when James Levine, who in July had stepped in as a high-end replacement conductor, was suspended amid accusations of sexual misconduct that rocked the classical music world.

“I’ve never been in a situation like this in my entire career,” David McVicar, the production’s director, said during a recent rehearsal break, tilting his head back and slowly sliding off a couch for dramatic effect. “It’s been like ‘Groundhog Day’ sometimes. Just when you think you’ve made progress, someone else is gone, and someone else is coming in. The sheer stress of it is something I’ve never been through.”

Mr. McVicar confessed that during one particularly low “night of despair” he had considered quitting the production, too — but said he was happy he had stayed on.


“I’m very glad I had a few stiff drinks and talked myself around, and then came into work the next day,” he said. “There is so much positive energy inside the production. Theater people are kind of great in a crisis. It’s cliché, but we just are. The show must go on. And it does.”

The new “Tosca” was being closely watched even before its cast began dwindling. One of the most contentious decisions Peter Gelb made early in his tenure as general manager of the Met, where he arrived in 2006 as a modernizing agent, was replacing the ornate Zeffirelli “Tosca” with a starker, grittier, more sexually explicit staging by Luc Bondy in 2009.

It was something of a fiasco. The Bondy staging was booed on opening night, and while it had its admirers, it appalled many longtime operagoers and some on the Met’s board.

The kerfuffle quickly became about something more than whether people disliked the staging. It emerged as a flash point in the raging debates over traditional opera productions versus modern ones, and was never far from the surface when people discussed Mr. Gelb’s tenure and the pluses and minuses of a 21st-century Met.


So when Mr. Gelb announced that he was replacing the Bondy staging with a new one by Mr. McVicar — one that would feature sumptuous, identifiably Roman sets by John Macfarlane — it was widely seen as a bid for redemption with a core constituency.

“I have learned my lesson from the Bondy production,” Mr. Gelb said in a recent interview. “When it comes to a classic piece of repertoire, beauty counts — and that’s what the audience wants.”

So the Met’s armies of artisans set about recreating the Rome of the Napoleonic era to realize Mr. MacFarlane’s painterly designs. They used 77 rolls of gold leaf to gild Sant’Andrea della Valle, the dazzling Baroque church where the first act is set. They painted a 1,557-square-foot fresco to adorn the Palazzo Farnese in the second. And they sculpted a statue of the Archangel Michael to stand atop the Castel Sant’Angelo in the third. Mr. Gelb engaged a gilded set of singers to populate the finery.

Then things stopped going according to plan.

One of opera’s biggest stars, the notoriously cancellation-prone tenor Jonas Kaufmann, withdrew just weeks after the production was announced in February, saying he did not want to spend so much time away from his family. Mr. Gelb, aware of Mr. Kaufmann’s history of no-shows, had already lined up Mr. Grigolo as a backup.

That turned out to be just the overture. The soprano Kristine Opolais, the original Tosca, withdrew in June, citing “personal reasons” after receiving mixed reviews in the role elsewhere. Ms. Yoncheva, who has recently emerged as one of the Met’s true prima donnas, stepped in, cheering many operagoers.

Then another shoe dropped: The production’s conductor, Andris Nelsons, the dynamic music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Ms. Opolais’s husband, followed her out the door.

Mr. Levine, who began his legendary Met career with a performance of “Tosca” in 1971, agreed to replace him, only to be suspended this month when the Met opened an investigation into accusations that he sexually abused four men decades ago, when the men were teenagers or his students — accusations he has called “unfounded.” Emmanuel Villaume, the music director of the Dallas Opera, became the third maestro to take the job.

Mr. McVicar said that the news about Mr. Levine had shaken the company. “We’re visitors,” he said of his production team. “But for our colleagues who are here all the time, that was such a profound body blow. So we had to get over that.”

The last of the original leads, the bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, who had been set to play the villain, Scarpia, left the production soon after arriving for rehearsals this month, saying he had been forced to “rest due to vocal fatigue.” Zeljko Lucic, a Met fixture in recent years who sang Scarpia with the company in 2015, replaced him.

There have been plenty of star-crossed productions in Met history, including the premiere of Samuel Barber’s “Antony and Cleopatra” that opened the Met’s Lincoln Center home in 1966 (amid serious last-minute technical glitches and labor woes) and Robert Lepage’s recent “Ring” cycle (built around a 45-ton set that had a habit of breaking down).

But Mr. Gelb said that he had never before had to recast all the leads in a new production. “Luckily, there are only three principal roles,” he said dryly.

Mr. McVicar said he had rethought aspects of the production to suit the fresh-faced Ms. Yoncheva and Mr. Grigolo, envisioning them as young lovers in the early months of a passionate love affair.

“It’s a sort of polar opposite to the way that the show was first conceived, and I almost have welcomed these changes,” he said. “Because now we’ve got something younger, more organic: the real thrill of those two making their role debuts.”

It is rare for opera singers to try out new parts at the Met — and even rarer for them to take that risk in a major new production. But Ms. Yoncheva is getting used to it: She has sung several roles for the first time with the company, including Desdemona in the new staging of Verdi’s “Otello” that opened the 2015-16 season. This season she is taking on a series of new challenges: Élisabeth in Verdi’s “Don Carlos” for this first time this fall at the Paris Opera; and, in the new year, parts in Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” at the Met and Bellini’s “Il Pirata” at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

“It’s hell!” she joked during a phone interview from Paris, where she sang in two productions while studying “Tosca” in her spare time. “No, not really. I try not to think about it — to go for it, and that’s it.”

Her go-for-it attitude was evident as she practiced Tosca’s final leap off the battlements of the Castel Sant’Angelo, landing in a large box filled with foam cubes. But she, too, caused a few jitters when she missed several performances of “La Bohème” in Paris this month because of bronchitis. While she sounded radiant in rehearsal, she paused during breaks to sip herbal tea.

Mr. Grigolo, who had a breakout run at the Met last season in “Roméo et Juliette” and “Werther,” worked on the role of Cavaradossi this fall while appearing at night in Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffmann.”


One afternoon he strode into the studio of John Fisher, the Met’s assistant general manager of music administration, pushed “record” on his smartphone, placed it on the piano and began working on the piece. As he tested passages quietly, working on their complex rhythms and the nuances of the text and music, Mr. Grigolo, a sports car aficionado, likened the practice of learning a role before singing it in full voice to the way drivers prepare for a race.

“It’s like you’re testing the circuit, learning the circuit,” he said. “And then you give gas.”

At a recent rehearsal, there was little evidence of the months of chaos. Mr. McVicar helped the singers fine-tune their connection; Mr. Fisher and Mr. Villaume jumped in to shape musical phrases. Stage managers in headsets choreographed entrances and exits. Extras playing riflemen fired their guns to test for volume.

“I think we have turned it around,” Mr. McVicar said during a break. “So long as there’s no more sickness, or no more acts of God, or a war with North Korea, or something like that. I mean, anything could happen at this point.”



https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/arts ... front&_r=0

lennygoran
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Re: Behind the Scenes of ‘Tosca,’ the Messiest Production in Met History

Post by lennygoran » Thu Dec 28, 2017 7:25 am

Many more photos in this article:

See How the Met Built ‘Tosca,’ Its Biggest Production of the Season

Text by Michael Cooper
Dec. 28, 2017


Rome wasn’t built in a day. When the Metropolitan Opera decided to create a new production of Puccini’s “Tosca” true to the work’s Roman settings, the company’s army of artists and artisans started work nearly a year before its opening night, on New Year’s Eve.

There were frescos to paint, statues to sculpt, costumes to sew. Watching the creation of the new “Tosca” served as a reminder of the work that hundreds of people do to bring grandeur to grand opera — and showed the extent to which the Met, which was recently rocked by sexual misconduct accusations against its music director emeritus, James Levine, is a group effort.


Behind its travertine facade, the Met is an opera factory. In a backstage workshop on the fourth floor, scenic artists sculpted the Archangel Michael out of steel, plywood, foam, fiberglass and aqua resin, getting it ready for its perch atop the Castel Sant’Angelo in the final act. With stars, choristers, soldiers, priests and more to clothe, nearly two and a quarter miles of fabric went into the “Tosca” costumes.


In a painting shop in the shadow of the Bruckner Expressway in the Bronx, a crew of scenic artists worked for two sweltering weeks in July copying and enlarging an oil painting by John Macfarlane, who designed the sets and costumes. They were creating the 3,375-square-foot show curtain that will greet audience members when they enter the Met’s auditorium.

The artists created a grid in which two inches of painting became four feet of curtain. They traced the outlines in charcoal, then used paintbrushes attached to bamboo poles and went through roughly 50 gallons of paint.


The stakes are high for the new “Tosca,” directed by David McVicar. It is aimed in part at operagoers who rebelled when the Met replaced its beloved, opulent 1985 Franco Zeffirelli staging of with a sparer, grittier one by Luc Bondy in 2009.

Building the sets is hard — and so is storing them. Unlike in a Broadway theater, where a show is loaded in and can stay put until the end of its run, the Met is putting on several operas at any given time. Above, a set piece is stored three levels below the stage.


To recreate the gilded Baroque splendor of the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, where the first act is set, the Met’s artisans used 77 rolls of gold leaf. Many details won’t be caught by even the most powerful opera glasses — but now that the Met simulcasts its performances to cinemas around the world through its Live in HD series, every opera must be ready for its close-up.


Each August — after American Ballet Theater’s spring season has ended, and before the opera season starts — the Met holds technical rehearsals for its new productions and the sets are put onstage for the first time.



All told, some 182 costumes were created for the new “Tosca,” some sewn backstage in the Met’s costume shop and others in Toronto; Racine, Wis.; and London. Three hundred yards of ecclesiastical lace were used in the procession at the end of the first act — 24 yards for the cardinal’s robe alone.


The opera house even has its own milliner: Janet Linville. Above, she measures a member of the chorus, Elizabeth Brooks, for a hat.

The opera’s climax, atop the Castel Sant’Angelo, unfolds beneath the watchful eye of the Archangel Michael, which has now been painted to resemble the real statue, and in front of a cyclorama backdrop of 4,950 square feet of painted muslin. Above, riflemen take aim at the tenor Vittorio Grigolo, playing the painter Cavaradossi.

One of the most important pieces of the set is never seen by the audience: a large wooden box filled with 2,000 six-inch foam cubes. The foam provides a soft landing for Sonya Yoncheva, the soprano singing the title role — allowing her to make her climactic leap off the castle and still return in one piece for curtain calls.






https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/arts ... collection

John F
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Re: Behind the Scenes of ‘Tosca,’ the Messiest Production in Met History

Post by John F » Thu Dec 28, 2017 10:02 am

The Times's headline is hype, but then, it was probably not written by Cooper but some functionary in the newsroom. Cooper says more modestly, "There has likely never been a production with a birth as tumultuous," and even that is an overstatement; the Met's problems have been with the casting, not the production. And since "Tosca" is one of those operas which hundreds or thousands of leading singers and conductors know and regularly perform, finding available replacements even at short notice is the kind of challenge that the Met's artistic department meets all the time. The Met's decision to hand Yoncheva and Grigolo role debuts was not compulsory, though of course it had its reasons.

My chaos candidate would be Barber's "Antony and Cleopatra" whose world premiere opened the new opera house at Lincoln Center. The sets by Franco Zeffirelli were so heavy that they broke the revolving stage platform they were built on, making scene changes as Zeffirelli originally directed them impossible. Some of the scenery had to be rebuilt and parts of the production restaged in a great hurry.
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Re: Behind the Scenes of ‘Tosca,’ the Messiest Production in Met History

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Dec 28, 2017 10:49 am

John F wrote:
Thu Dec 28, 2017 10:02 am
The Times's headline is hype, but then, it was probably not written by Cooper but some functionary in the newsroom. Cooper says more modestly, "There has likely never been a production with a birth as tumultuous," and even that is an overstatement; the Met's problems have been with the casting, not the production. And since "Tosca" is one of those operas which hundreds or thousands of leading singers and conductors know and regularly perform, finding available replacements even at short notice is the kind of challenge that the Met's artistic department meets all the time. The Met's decision to hand Yoncheva and Grigolo role debuts was not compulsory, though of course it had its reasons.

My chaos candidate would be Barber's "Antony and Cleopatra" whose world premiere opened the new opera house at Lincoln Center. The sets by Franco Zeffirelli were so heavy that they broke the revolving stage platform they were built on, making scene changes as Zeffirelli originally directed them impossible. Some of the scenery had to be rebuilt and parts of the production restaged in a great hurry.
I remember reading about The Battle of Metium at the time. Did you actually see it? Even my college friend Ted, who received a then scarce Met subscription as a high school graduation present and kept it for many years, never saw a production at the old opera house.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

John F
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Re: Behind the Scenes of ‘Tosca,’ the Messiest Production in Met History

Post by John F » Thu Dec 28, 2017 3:09 pm

If you mean, did I see "Antony and Cleopatra," no, I was in Germany with the Army at the time. As for the old house, my parents took me to see "Carmen" and "Fledermaus" when I was 14, I saw "Tristan und Isolde" with Birgit Nilsson in her house debut and an ordinary "Lohengrin" while in college, and that was it. I heard countless broadcasts from there beginning before my teens; my grandmother gave me a subscription to "Opera News" and the libretto service to encourage that.
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Re: Behind the Scenes of ‘Tosca,’ the Messiest Production in Met History

Post by Beckmesser » Thu Dec 28, 2017 6:04 pm

John F wrote:
Thu Dec 28, 2017 3:09 pm
I saw "Tristan und Isolde" with Birgit Nilsson in her house debut
Well, that must have been a night to remember!

I recall reading the "front page" news accounts of her auspicious New York debut.

lennygoran
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Re: Behind the Scenes of ‘Tosca,’ the Messiest Production in Met History

Post by lennygoran » Thu Dec 28, 2017 8:01 pm

John F wrote:
Thu Dec 28, 2017 3:09 pm
If you mean, did I see "Antony and Cleopatra," no, I was in Germany with the Army at the time.
I'd sure like to see it-will have to settle for the Opera Story HD movie account. Regards, Len

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Re: Behind the Scenes of ‘Tosca,’ the Messiest Production in Met History

Post by John F » Fri Dec 29, 2017 2:26 am

Beckmesser wrote:
Thu Dec 28, 2017 6:04 pm
John F wrote:
Thu Dec 28, 2017 3:09 pm
I saw "Tristan und Isolde" with Birgit Nilsson in her house debut
Well, that must have been a night to remember!
You would think so, but actually I remember very little, even though with Böhm conducting it must have been quite a performance. I didn't yet know the opera well, and later on I heard Nilsson when she had developed her Isolde further. But I'm keeping the program of that Met performance!
John Francis

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