First reports of the Met’s Tosca: Yoncheva saves it

First reports of the Met’s Tosca: Yoncheva saves it


norman lebrecht

January 01, 2018

The Slipped Disc grapevine has been buzzing with accounts of the Met’s patchwork Tosca last night.

Željko Lučić proved an inadequate replacement for Bryn Terfel as Baron Scarpia,  his voice neither strong nor silky enough to impress a first night audience.

Vittorio Grigolo, subbing for Jonas Kaufmann, did nothing wrong.

David McVicar’s production was safe as houses, Emmanuel Vuillaume’s conducting was on the slow side.

The major breakthrough was Sonya Yoncheva in her role debut as Tosca.

These are scattered impressions from audience members, not a formal review.

Just to keep you posted.

Possibly the biggest buzz was seeing Bill and Hillary Clinton in the orchestra seats.

Expect no Trumps.


  • Steve P says:

    Happy New Year! Glad to see Impeached President Bill Clinton and failed two-time DNC Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton taking time to appreciate the arts.

    • Bruce says:

      The arts are for losers. Happy new year!

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for getting the new year started on such a positive note of bipartisanship and goodwill!

    • William Safford says:

      They are capable of doing so.

      And interested.

      Food for thought.

      • Arturo says:

        Oh, come on, Steve P. What a negative, curmudgeonly comment.

        The Clintons are wealthy, influential people in a position to bring favorable attention (and money) to the arts. They have a right to enjoy the opera. Bill Clinton, in particular, is a long time supporter of classical music.

        Are only virtuous, poor, uninfluential people allowed to attend operas? Unfortunately that’s not the socio-economic group which is able to help subsidize the arts in the USA

        Leave the Clintons in peace.

        • Olassus says:

          “Bill Clinton, in particular, is a long time supporter of classical music.”

          That’s a new one!

          • Arturo says:

            Olassus, not really. I am apolitical – I am a rank and file orch. player. All I know is that Bill Clinton’s name has come up several times casually in random conversations with guest conductors and soloists with US ties as someone who strongly supports what they do. From what these artists have recounted to me, Clinton is especially interested in good music education programs in schools.

            Can’t violate their privacy, but these were casual, unsolicited conversations with highly regarded professionals in classical music – names you’d know – who have no reason to make up stories about Bill Clinton. He likes musicians. He likes music.

            For God’s sake, he plays the sax publicly, or at least he tries, he can’t be that far removed from the music world.

            I’m not familiar with Clinton’s politics, but just remember that some of the most odious characters in world history have been classical music lovers and patrons of the arts. It’s pretty simplistic and well, ignorant, to assume that just because you hate someone’s politics that they must not be capable of appreciating classical music. In fact, it’s not even a logical argument!

          • Nick U says:

            I’ve seen Bill Clinton and Chelsea at the Met several times over the years. Also have seen Chelsea and her husband there even more times. Other regular celebrity sightings at the Met during everyday performances: John Lithgow (often), Alec Baldwin, Harvey Keitel, Rudy Giuliani, Holly Hunter, Alan Dershowitz, Dan Rather.

          • The View from America says:

            Yes, Little Rock is very well-known for its classical music scene …

        • Kristina Pax says:

          Thank you Arturo for your comment.Yours are exactly the words that I would have written. Just to add, Mr Clinton was the best President of the USA since J.F. Kennedy. And he was not impeached! Happy New Year.

        • Steve P says:

          Had NL not made a snide “No Trumps” comment I would not have been compelled to balance the scale.
          I actually respect Bill for his rumored musical addictions while he was in school. Although, in hindsight, that probably was the entry point of his #metoo behavior.

    • La Verita says:

      Oh yeah, a successful 2-term senator, a Secretary of State, a First Lady, and a Yale Law School graduate – such women are a dime-a-dozen. What a failure she is!

      • Steve P says:

        I’ll give you the Yale law degree, but not a single other accomplishment you listed showed her to be successful.

        • La Verita says:

          She was a popularly elected (and re-elected) senator, and was invited by President Obama to serve a 2nd term as Secretary of State, which she declined in order to prepare for a 2nd presidential run – for which she received 2,770,000 more votes than Trump. That’s success, pal, so clearly the facts don’t support your Fox News narrative.

          • Tristan says:

            and doesn’t she fit much better here than to the deplorable people who voted for Trump? Who made Trump?
            No one ever asked this question? Poor America and the deplorable media there, especially NYT

          • Steve P says:

            the worst foreign relations president in history of US invited her to continue the worst Secretary of State performance in history=fail. Barely a resident of an uberlib state that conveniently ignored her contributions to Bill’s sexual predations=grotesque. giant lib population centers voted for the Uber lib candidate=no shock. make sure you keep using the same talking points, pal – I’m sure the electoral college is going to be changed soon (not).

          • Bruce says:

            If it was someone he liked with the exact same record, and the exact same results, he’d call it proof of being successful.

          • Mark says:

            You are too naive for your own good. Any Democrat with name recognition would get elected in New York – you do realize she only moved to the state one year before the election? The only Republican who could defeat her, Rudy Giuliani, was ill and had to withdraw. And Obama appointed Hillary SoS because that was the price of making peace with the Clinton wing of the party (there is no love lost between the Clintons and the Obamas).
            Finally, the “popular vote” number is meaningless in the US elections, as I am sure you know !

        • William Safford says:

          That says more about you than about her.


          • Steve P says:

            Name calling is always a good plan, pal. Doesn’t change the fact that Hillary is a twice failed presidential candidate and rode the coattails of her creepy impeached husband.
            But glad they support the arts regardless.

          • Bruce says:

            The arts are for failures and molesters (and their enablers). Happy new year!

          • Kristina Pax says:

            What a sad picture you paint of yourself, Mr. William Safford. You have just, technically, impeached the best President of the greatest country in the world, USA, since John F. Kennedy. Actually this is funny.

          • William Safford says:

            Steve P, if the shoe fits, wear it. If you want to be a troll, at least be proud of it.

            Kristina Pax, you’re right, I did damn the Clintons with faint praise. I didn’t mean to do that. LOL.

            This notwithstanding, Steve P’s comments speak for themselves, and his trolling reflect poorly on himself. Maybe he’s proud of himself. *shrug*

        • Sue says:

          The real tragedy for HRC is that she stood by and allowed herself to be humiliated by a serial philanderer because she figured one day she’d be President and the price was worth playing. Yale or not, that decision just wasn’t very bright.

          And Bill was the same as JFK: neither man had any respect for their wives. Anyone can call that being a ‘great President’ if they want to.

          • La Verita says:

            Oh yeah Sue, if only HRC could be more like Melania Trump, who so vigorously defended her p*ssy-grabber husband, and therefore maintained her dignity.

      • Nik says:

        Dubya also had a degree from Yale, as well as one from Harvard. So what?

        • La Verita says:

          Dubya’s daddy bought his son’s way into Ivy League schools. HRC got in on her merits, and btw, she can pronounce “nuclear”.

    • Sy Cohen says:

      They are only there to SUCK UP to the rich donors as usual!!! Typical DEMS show up holding out BOTH HANDS for The Clinton Foundation, Hillary’s Onward Together BS engineered to slander President Trump. Hillary’s ‘PITTY PARTY” book sales SUCK so bad she may finally make a good decision and divorce shriveling Bill….HA..ha!

  • Rob says:

    She’s a ‘Rolex’ artist, only time will tell.

  • Pippin says:

    “On the slow side” is putting it mildly. Vuillaume frequently slowed the tempo to a crawl, played everything forte, and inserted loooong pauses at significant moments, as though he felt he needed to signal weightiness to the audience.

    Set was impressively lavish but undone by attempt to compete with memories of Zeffirelli. McVicar hurled brightly costumed extras onstage willy nilly in Act One, forgetting that Zef’s finale worked because it was elegantly choreographed to the music (and consciously evoked David’s Coronation of Napoleon.) The set swallowed the voices in Act One, which is presumably why some found Lučić inadequate. In fact he was excellent in Act Two and just as silky as one could want.

    Grigolo was not in best voice (esp. in Act One) but gave a very moving performance; chemistry between him and Yoncheva was evident and welcome.

    Yoncheva was absolutely wonderful throughout, sounding a little like Callas but sweeter, and yes, she saved the day. No more doubts about her after this. She’s a major star.

    • Alphonse says:

      Exactly so. Wonderful chemistry between the doomed lovers. Grigolo doesn’t really have the squillo one wants in the role and the Ricondita armonia sounded sandy and weak, but the duet(s) were convincing and charming, and Act II and III
      was one of the most moving performances of the role I have seen at the Met. The set had the right spirit for Zefferelli redux but execution was terrible. Meandering aimless supers, and the angel that was so ominous and majestic (and mysterious and meaningful) in the FZ production was shrunk and set so high up that it was actually totally unseen from the front row of the balcony, so invisible to a substantial part of the house. Act II direction was mostly random and vague (though there were wonderful performances that compensated); Act III staging, in addition to the invisible angel, seemed to be replicated from the Alagna Gheorgiu film, but without cinematic closeups also just lacked drama. The whole idea (noisy realistic set, and strange pauses to create, as you mention, insta-historic moments) seemed to be to distrust opera itself and try to excavate a play from beneath it, to approximate a Broadway experience. Yoncheva’s last moments and leap were very powerful and striking, but to have the gendarmes in motion down their hatch for the last chords was messy and distracting compared to the beloved tableau of the FZ. Even the curtains didn’t drop with effective timing (wasn’t the last chord of Act II weirdly hesitant and abbreviated?) They really should bring FZ back; there are hatchling opera tifosi fresh every day to be won over by it.

      • Nick U says:

        I’ve always thought that if they wanted to bring back the spirit of the Zeffirelli production (all for that), they should have just refurbished the real deal (assuming it was still in existence—have heard conflicting reports). That would have been far more economical and would have made a bigger splash.

    • Jeník says:

      Come on:

      Emmanuel Villaume, the last conductor standing at the end of the train of withdrawals, does not go for the obvious in his conducting of Puccini’s volatile music. He brings shape, nuance and pliancy to the score. – NY Times

      Villaume gave a rich account of the score in the pit. He drew an impressive array of colors from the orchestra, rising to meet the demands of the opera’s most dramatic moments. The rich burning of the strings after Scarpia’s death in Act II seemed at once an enormous release of dramatic tension and a grim warning of more tragedy to come. – New York Classical Review

      The orchestra responded to Mr. Villaume’s long-limbed, lyric approach to the score, which emphasized melody over melodrama, though the tensions of the opera exploded at appropriate points….. and ….. She brought the necessary passion to “Vissi d’arte” helped by a glacial tempo and sense of drama from the baton of Mr. Villaume. – Super Conductor Blog

      Drama, theatrical integrity and vocal prowess reign in this Tosca, accompanied sumptuously by the Metropolitan Opera orchestra under Emmanuel Villaume. – ZEAL NYC

      • Alphonse says:

        “After a promising start, with a tingly attack on the opera’s eerie opening fanfare, conductor Emmanuel Villaume fell apart bit by bit, fluffing innumerable details of Tosca‘s notoriously tricky in-and-out rhythms. Nobody ever gets every little tempo change exactly right, but the trick of making this opera work in the theater is cleaning up all those little mistake on the fly, without ever letting the tension drop. Once Villaume got into the heavy weeds of the second act, he kept stopping to regroup; the effect was deadly, but not in the way Puccini had in mind.” –James Jordan, Observer

  • Tiredofitall says:

    The Clintons are no strangers to the Met Opera. Aside from fairly regular visits (I’m talking annually, not monthly or weekly), I believe Bill Clinton was also the last sitting President to attend an opera performance. They may actually enjoy it…

    • John Borstlap says:

      Yes, but why did Bill take his ice cream with him into the auditorium? (photo) That suggests him being forced to attend.

      • V.Lind says:

        Back in the day in Britain they used to have people to bring ices around so you did not have to go out during the interval(s). May still do in some regional theatres. Mind you it came in tubs,with little wooden spoons. Less danger of a mess than cones.

        Happy New Year to all.

      • Stephen Owades says:

        Ice cream? What photo are you looking at? Bill Clinton is shaking the hand of a passerby in the aisle, not holding a snack.

      • Sue says:

        Probably because Melania Trump was there and it would give him the opportunity to ogle her as he did at the inauguration.

        • Kristina Pax says:

          Sue. You must be sitting on the stack of tabloids. Great American citizen, you are?

          • Sue says:

            I’m not American and I DID watch the Inauguration and clearly saw Clinton ogling Mrs. Trump. And the look on HRC’s face told it all!! It was then that I really felt sorry for her.

  • Todd says:

    one last opera fling before incarceration

  • Ron Lee says:

    Who gives a crap about the clintons at the opera.. I thought these comments were supposed to be about the performance

  • David H Spence says:

    Lucic is almost automatically a better Scarpia than Gagnidze was eight years ago, sabotaging together with Alvarez’s poor acting ability as Cavaradossi what elsewhere, such as in Munich, has been a quite good if slightly off-center production of Puccini’s Tosca. From the two clips I’ve seen, Grigolo acts rings around Marcelo Alvarez. We should have Alvarez, at his best, on dvd for his Ballo in maschera at the Met. Were it not for Gelb wantonly messing with the camera angles that David Alden specified for filming it, we in fact would, not to mention his inane comments as to what is beautiful to see (or hear!) on stage or not. Get a load of Meade and Barton, how they are photographed to represent the new McVicar production of Norma, with especially Meade being vocally incompetent for her part in that. Except to indicate we no longer have an occupant of the White House to show the least bit of respect for the arts, let’s put mention of the Clintons having attended last night completely aside. It is irrelevant.

  • Nancy Wilken says:

    The show did go on but from comments the opera must have renamed « The Clinton’s » (seated in orchestra very democratic reminder former President Clinton’s favorite opera had been rumored to have been
    Carmen No comments on beautiful finery & other notaries attending New Years ball dinner & dancing or has that ritual been omitted?

  • Joel Eigen says:

    I’m really aghast at the unnecessary and uncalled for digs at the Clintons. How did anything either of them did compare with the horror we’re now living through? Intelligent, thoughtful, respectful; who in the current government will be remembered for anything but corrosive contempt for the governed?

  • harold braun says:

    And the conductor???PC,but not nearly on patch with Jimmy,from what i heard….

    • Mark says:

      He isn’t worthy to shine Jimmy’s shoes.
      The singers did a good job (under the circumstances), especially Yoncheva who was excellent and at times reminded one of Tebaldi. But this Villiom fellow should be executed by Baron Scarpia’s soldiers. Bring back Levine !!!!

      • roger says:

        Wow, this is how you are spelling the conductor’s name? No wonder you voted for Trump.

        • Mark says:

          @Roger, I couldn’t care less about his name, I am interested in the quality of the performance. Can you spell “anal nutbag”? BTW, Trump is truly a real-estate genius – he lives rent-free in your little head …

  • anonymous says:

    Yoncheva is not suited for the role — yet. She is a wonderful lyric soprano (her Vissi d’arte was very well done) but she showed no growth in acting or voice from a petulant jealous lover to a firebrand. Perhaps she will grow into it. Grigolo was off pitch for E lucevan le stelle. His Recondita armonia was underpowered. But he did hit all the notes. He is a fine tenor (his recent Tales of Hoffman was a triumph for acting and signing). I agree about Lucic — placing him on the scaffold at the end of Act I was a mistake: he was drowned out by the chorus but his Act II was sublime (he played it without overacting the sexual aspect, important in this highly charged era of sexual abuse accusations).

  • John Carpenter says:

    Does Baron Scarpia say: Kiss it?

  • Daniel NYC says:

    Put aside the politics. Please fact check when Donald Trump ever stepped foot in the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall or any other cultural institution in NYC. I have lived in NYC over 40 years and I am not aware of our “neanderthal” president ever showing any interest in the Arts. His latest attempt was not to support the Arts but to do away for the NEA. At least, Hilary and Bill show up to the opera. I was at the Met Opera shortly after President Clinton left office and he attended Aida with his daughter. They even go to the theatre often. Such is not the case with the DOTARD.

    • Mark says:

      Oh, please. I’ve spoken to his former aide who told me that Clinton enjoyed pop and was bored stiff by classical music (but felt the need to attend classical concerts and opera occasionally to show that he isn’t really a country hick). Trump doesn’t pretend to be anything he isn’t. And please show me the provision in the US Constitution that allows for the existence of NEA.

      • Anon says:

        what a crazy twist. to ask for showing a provision that ALLOWS supporting the arts by the government. wow.
        what a sick country. bear arms and shoot school children. rob the world at gun point and destroy it. but no money to the arts, that’s unconstitutional.

    • laurie says:

      I have seen the three Clintons at the Met Museum Christmas concerts twice. I don’t like them but they were there and they were obviously enjoying the music.

    • The View from America says:

      Yes, Little Rock has such a vibrant arts and classical music scene …

  • Asteven says:

    All this talk of The Met’s new Tosca seems to concentrate on an ex president on a night out or the well known many cancellations. Isn’t Mr Lebrecht’s site about music and the arts? The two who were there from the beginning were two Scots: David McVicar, the director and John Macfarlane, the designer. When the curtain rose on the first act the audience applauded. When did you last hear that in any opera house?

  • Morgan Gee says:

    I am new to this site as well as to the world of opera. Signed on only to read a review and, what I hoped would be, helpful comments about Tosca from people who know opera and might have seen this production. Was disappointed to find instead personal attacks on audience members and politicians instead of intelligent, thoughtful and educated insights into an opera I was interested in seeing. While I am not totally dissuaded from continuing to seek further comments and insights about Tosca and opera, in general, I will be looking elsewhere for information and education.

    • Jaybuyer says:

      You can always come back here for the gossip, bitching and trolling.

    • Bruce says:

      “…in general, I will be looking elsewhere for information and education.”

      Probably wise. I’d recommend, which has highly opinionated but much more knowledgeable readers who tend to stick to the topic. You’ll learn more, and have less bullshit to deal with.

      But to agree with what Jaybuyer said, the gossip, bitchiness, and trolling are top-drawer.

  • Ryan says:

    Given today’s political climate, I don’t understand the need to mention that the Clintons decided to attend a Met performance in any musical reporting. I’m glad they like opera, but their attendance holds no sway on the quality of the production or singing. It is interesting, however, that the Clintons received such an ovation during Tosca, an opera whose plot revolves around a corrupt government official, mishandling of government documents, and sexual assault.