Giacomo Puccini’s sizzling melodrama opened at the Metropolitan Opera on October 4th and, at least on that night, the opera should have been called Cavaradossi. The evening belonged to tenor Michael Fabiano, who sang the role of Tosca’s doomed lover, the painter Mario Cavaradossi, with passionate aplomb, beauty, attention to musical details, and generosity of sound. It instills awe to experience a singer who is so meticulously committed to dynamics, diction, and phrasing, while conveying enthralling abandon as though he sang directly from his raw emotions and no technical calculation ever entered into his creation of the role. His rigorous work behind this character was disguised by sheer artistry. From the moment he stepped on stage, cutting a dashing figure in his youthful, nonchalant swagger, Fabiano captivated. By his first aria, “Recondita armonia,” the entire house was immersed in his vocal magnificence dotted with stirring, visceral inflections reminiscent of past legendary tenors.
Michael Fabiano as Mario Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca – Photo Karen Almond / Met Opera
In the Act I duet with Tosca, Fabiano’s voice transmitted infinite tenderness when soothing her jealousy with “Qual’ occhio al mondo.” His “Vittoria” moment in the Act II confrontation with Scarpia was one of the most exciting operatic moments this reviewer has experienced in past years. It blew the roof off in its avalanche of sound—powerful, defiant, and penetrating while never losing its beauty. His is an electrifying voice that blossoms and conquers from the first note he sings, revealing layer upon layer of emotion and meaning underneath his vast canopy of sound. “E lucevan le stelle” in Act III scintillated and shredded the heart. In the final duet with Tosca, Fabiano’s voice turned heartbreakingly sweet and tender during “O dolci mani,” and then unleashed its resplendent force in “Trionfal” overpowering Aleksandra Kurzak (Tosca).
Aleksandra Kurzak in the title role of Puccini’s Tosca – Photo Karen Almond / Met Opera
Kurzak was a well-intentioned Tosca, however, between Fabiano’s Cavaradossi and Luca Salsi’s Scarpia, it felt as though she was slightly lost vocally and dramatically, having to resort, for instance, to too many declamatory phrases and hysterical screams in the duet with Scarpia. While Verismo does invite a more theatrical vein and the beauty of sound can sometimes be sacrificed in favor of dramatic effect, Kurzak overdid it. She was at her best in Act I in “Non la sospiri, la nostra casetta” where her voice beautifully showcased its silvery, rounded quality. But as the evening progressed and Kurzak had to ride Puccini’s increasingly dramatic musical waves, she seemed to fight to emerge from under those waves, either with scooping attacks of sound or forced metallic edges. Her “Vissi d’arte” was carefully executed and capped with a breathtaking pianissimo. But overall, that larger-than-life, thrilling, dramatic star factor that one expects from Tosca was lacking. Singing this role was a valiant effort on Kurzak’s part, yet it raises the question whether the role is a good match for her. One can only hope that she will settle into it more during the run.
Luca Salsi as Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca – Photo Karen Almond / Met Opera
The other force of nature of the evening was Luca Salsi who, like Fabiano, took over the stage and the house from the moment he appeared. Salsi’s Scarpia is cunning and brutal yet seductive. Impeccable diction, enveloping phrasing alternating with biting sounds when needed, and a powerful stage presence made for a fascinating villain. He could shift from honeyed, alluring sound in “Tosca, divina” to the insidious colors of “Già il veleno l’ha rosa” after instigating Tosca’s jealousy. His “Va, Tosca” smoldered with passion and longing, and his Act II revelation of his love/lust philosophy resounded refined and occasionally grainy as though his violent lust was bursting out from in between the notes. In his psychological torture of Tosca, Salsi dominated the stage—and Tosca—as a towering and terrifying vocal and physical force. When he combatted the defiant Cavaradossi, it was enormously satisfying to see that he met his match in Fabiano. The clash between the two after Cavaradossi’s “Vittoria” outburst made one wish those moments would last much longer.
Special praise goes to bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi who enabled the often-caricaturized role of the Sacristan to truly stand out through his striking, gorgeous sound. This is a lead-role-quality voice that makes one pay attention to his every phrase, from “Fuori, Satana, fuori” to “Scherza coi fanti e lascia stare i santi” to “E questa sera gran fiaccolata.” His appearance is no mere secondary character comedic turn; it is actually forged in outstanding singing, which is rare in this often-overlooked role.
The first voice we hear as the opera opens is Angelotti’s, the escaped prisoner, and it is gratifying when those initial sounds “Ah! Finalmente!” resonate as impressively and clearly as bass-baritone Kevin Short sang them. Short created a weary, strong Angelotti, and his interaction with Cavaradossi was believable and musically rousing.
Maestro Carlo Rizzi led the orchestra with experienced mastery, forming a well-paced, intensifying musical and dramatic arc, and negotiating effortlessly between singers and instrumentalists in rubati and dynamics. The production by David McVicar, that premiered on New Year’s Eve 2017, offers a historically accurate, sumptuous setting that depicts the famous Rome landmarks—the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, Palazzo Farnese, and Castel Sant’Angelo—in absolute stage gems of stunning work by set and costume designer John Macfarlane.
Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca runs at the Metropolitan Opera through November 4 and resumes on March 30 until April 15 with a different cast.
Top photo: Aleksandra Kurzak as Tosca and Michael Fabiano as Cavaradossi in the final scene of Puccini’s Tosca – Photo Karen Almond /Met Opera