Well all Rome wasn't exactly trembling a week ago Sunday past (January 20th)but the Teatro dell'Opera had to be moving a bit with all the clapping, stomping and carrying on during the curtain calls at the end of Tosca - why even the orchestra stayed behind to join in the ovation. And when a frail looking Franco Zeffirelli came out, leaning heavily on conductor Gianluigi Gelmetti, the foundations had to have given a few shakes.
So was it really all that great an evening? Well yes... and no. Let's just say it was an evening of marvelous inconsistencies. As I mentioned before as a designer Zeffirelli is a traditionalist - if the libretto says Act I - Church of Sant'Andrea delle Valle that's what we get.
Set Design by Franco Zeffirelli Act 1 - Church of Sant'Andrea delle Valle
And as a director he is remarkably faithful to the libretto, if Puccini writes music for a Te Deum and Illica and Giacosa want a procession then we get a procession to end all processions - Swiss Guards, Confraturnities, Priests, Cardinals et al.
Act 1 - Te Deum finale
There were the Zeffirelli trademarks - extras wandering through the Church, children, a stripped to the waist muscle fuck in the last act,an elevator scenery change, naturalistic action mixed with outright operatic playing to the audience. It may not have all been logical but after some of the Regie nonsense seen here over the past few months - pax the dreadful Neapolitanized Merry Widow and the Smurf-infested Mose in Egitto- it was good to see a director who'd read the libretto and listened to the music.
As for the music making Gelmetti led a taut performance that burned with a sense of drama until "E lucevan le stelle" in Act 3 when all drama left the stage, but more about that later. Though its was a Sunday matinee we had the first cast from opening night: Martina Serafin, Marcelo Alvarez and Renato Bruson. The veteran baritone Bruson, 71 years old according to Wikipedia, was sounding a little thread-bare and now lacks the dark tones to create a really terrifying Scarpia. And if dramatically his Scarpia seemed an imitation of Tito Gobbi's, it should be best remembered that most of Zeffirelli's direction for Act 2 derives from the Callas-Gobbi 1964 production.
Reports of Serafin's Strauss (Johann Jr and Richard) and Wagner had not prepared me for the Latin-intensity of her performance. She was a many-coloured Tosca - almost child-like in her love-play with Cavaradossi in Act 1, very much the grand singer use to theatre in her over-reaction to the painting and truly frightening and frightened in her Act 2 scenes with Bruson. Her Vissi d'arte was a bewildered cry from the heart not just a big soprano aria. Marceo Alvarez, her Cavaradossi, is a big handsome bear of a man with a thrilling voice if no great ability as an actor. He handled the first act by-play with Serafin in a charming way - one could almost believe he would have hustled her into the Angelotti chapel for a quickie if it hadn't been occupied. His Vittoria! Vittoria! was thrilling without being show-stopping because it turns out he was saving the big guns for that Act 3 aria.
And stop the show he did. Now I must admit the aria was beautifully sung but the audience reaction seemed a bit over the top. Cries of bravo, a prolongued ovation and calls of bis (encore) rained down upon the kneeling figure of the about-to-die Cavaradossi - at which point he looked up with a big smile, acknowledged the ovation and turned to conductor Gelmetti with palms outstretched and a little-boy look of pleading on his face. He mimed "not for me maestro but for them," Gelmetti shrugged, Alvarez (forgetting he was playing Mario Cavaradossi) ran off-stage to ... okay it with Zeffirelli or stage management? get a drink of water? blow his nose?... who knows. But he returned all smiles and nodding threw himself into position and did it all over again. After that point Serafin, the excellent Spoletto (Claudio Barbieri) and the crackshot firing squad could do little to revive the dramatic tension - though the chase and leap from the parapet did have a certain excitement.
But at that point the real drama was being reserved for the curtain calls.
Just in case you'd like to see/hear what the carry on was all about Teatro dell'Opera has posted an edited video of the first night encore here. And my friend Parsi has a complete audio here.
(All photos are courtesy of Teatro dell'Opera di Roma)
30 gennaio - Santa Giacinta