Met “Tosca” Booed: Luc Bondy vs. Franco Zeffirelli

“He’s not second rate. He’s third rate.”
 – Franco Zeffirelli in anticipation of Luc Bondy’s new Tosca at the Met.

“I’m a third-rate director, and he is a second assistant of Visconti.”
– Luc Bondy, on Franco Zeffirelli, following the opening night boos of his Tosca.

The New York Times summarizes a defense of the production by the Met’s Peter Gelb and Bondy’s spirited comeback to Zeffirelli.

I think it’s fair to disclose that we here at the palatial world headquarters of Holde Kunst are basically in favor of Regietheater (aka Eurotrash, aka Director’s theater) because it’s better than being afraid to try new things for fear of upsetting the old guard. On the other hand, we find ourselves dismayed at the majority of particular examples of Regietheater that we’ve encountered.  I probably missed some nuances in Diane Paulus’s Don Giovanni at Chicago Opera Theater because I kept getting distracted by the “exclusive night club’s” recognizable KLIPPAN sofas from IKEA.  I’ve seen the Nurse in Romeo et Juliette sung,  apparently, by Mary Todd Lincoln. And I can’t tell you how alarmed I was when I first saw this picture from the current Bayreuth production of Parsifal – and how (relatively) relieved I was to find that this hospital ward wasn’t actually the church of the grail and the guy in fishnet stockings was at least Klingsor and not Amfortas or Gurenamnz.

In this case, Bondy’s vision is replacing a beloved, traditional production by Franco Zeffirelli, who took an opportunity to pre-emptively trash the production:.

“I have not seen yet any Puccini operas successfully adapted to this idiotic new way to approach his music,” he said. “You have to follow Puccini’s precise instructions.” Bringing interpretations to the staging of “Tosca” is especially tricky given that it is set in highly identifiable places in Rome, where any tourist can go. (Franco Zeffirelli, on Luc Bondy’s production of Tosca)

This wasn’t exactly sporting of “F-Zeff,” but his thesis matches one that John has advanced in this pages: Puccini’s original settings are too much fun to sacrifice on the altar of Regietheater. That’s why Puccini seems rarely subjected to directorial intrusion, and perhaps why messing with Tosca at the expense of the Zeffirelli production seems a particular affront to some members of the audience.  Add the fact that this opening was the season’s Gala (with an audience self-selected for perhaps a greater conservative tendency) and we have ourselves a big, fat “Boooooo…”

So what’s so bad about the new Tosca? You can see for yourself at your local theater on October  10. Here’s what I’ve heard:

  • Tosca stabs Scarpia in a more sensitive anatomical area than is customary.
  • Instead of laying out Scarpia’s body respectfully with candles and and a cross, she fans herself on the sofa.
  • Prostitutes are seen earlier in the action — on said sofa as well as crawling around on all fours.
  • Cavaradossi paints a topless Mary Magdalene, which Tosca slashes with a knife.
  • Scarpia writhes against a similarly nonvirginal statue of the Virgin Mary.
  • Tosca’s suicidal leap is depicted by a body double hanging from a string as the curtain falls.

Here is a non-snarky negative review from NJ.com.

Opera Chic offers a contrarian view, declaring that “Only in New York City would an essentially conventional, prudent opera director such as Luc Bondy be considered some sort of insane, incendiary bomb-thrower…” – part of a detailed treatment of the production covering several blog posts.  

But the prize goes to this Edith Wharton take on Monday night’s opening. It’s a spot-on rewrite of the opening scene in The Age of Innocence

Today’s post is by Bonnie Gibbons.

Live in HD Series 2009-10 Schedule

  • Tosca by Giacomo Puccini — October 10, 2009
  • Aida by Giuseppe Verdi — October 24, 2009
  • Turandot by Giacomo Puccini — November 7, 2009
  • Les Contes d’Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach — December 19, 2009
  • Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss — January 9, 2010
  • Carmen by Georges Bizet — January 16, 2010
  • Simon Boccanegra by Giuseppe Verdi — February 6, 2010
  • Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas — March 27, 2010
  • Armida by Gioachino Rossini — May 1, 2010