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* Luciano Pavarotti, sounding young and passionate, and Carol Vaness, singing the part of Floria Tosca at the Met for her first time, played lovers in last week's season premiere of Puccini's ``Tosca.''

Pavarotti is scheduled to sing the role of Mario Cavaradossi 11 more times this opera season, some opposite Ghena Dimitrova and Elizabeth Holleque.

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James Levine conducted the performance, in which Sherrill Milnes was in excellent voice as Scarpia. Sometimes his voice rang; other times he colored it subtly. Milnes played an imposing Scarpia who could be suave and charming but who chooses to be heavy-handed. As chief of Rome's secret police in 1800, he has so much power he doesn't have to turn on charm. Always dramatic in his death scenes, Milnes collapses into a chair, which tips over backward.

Pavarotti was a delight. His Cavaradossi, a painter, doesn't run up steps to work on a painting high on the church's back wall; he works on a sketch for it at an easel and faces the audience.

But in all other ways, Pavarotti was young - playful, loving, warm, and unstrained. After Tosca comes in, his love music is ardent. He teases her and flirts, and, when she has a jealous attack because she isn't the model for the woman in the painting, he lightly touches up the paint to please her.

His ``Vittoria!'' aria in Act II was thrilling; the final love duet was sweet and tender.

Vaness has mainly sung Mozart at the Met, though she sings Puccini and Verdi in other houses. She didn't make Tosca a grand dame in her first singing role here, and she didn't command the stage quite as much as Tosca should. Her best singing was in the last act.

Baritone David Evitts made his Met debut as the sacristan, a part that can be hammed to the sky. Evitts was sprightly but didn't overdo it. He sang out with strength, not trying to sound old or goofy.

This production is one of Franco Zeffirelli's lavish creations. Act I ends with the church absolutely full of people, on their knees praying, with Scarpia the only one facing the audience as he plans how to get Tosca in his power.

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