G and I saw the Metropolitan Opera‘s new production of Tosca a couple of weeks ago. I had read a few of the articles about the boo-ing on opening night so I was prepared for all sorts of atrocities. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, the sets are dull and a bit dreary in comparison to the glitz of the old production (by Franco Zeffirelli), but in some sense their very drabness refocuses the audience on the music. Certainly opera has historically been about pomp and pageantry but it’s a brave new world and if we’re looking at opera in a new way that may not be such a bad thing.
I had a long conversation with some older women during intermission about the pros and cons of various new productions presented in recent years. While one of them vehemently hated the new sets for Tosca she assured me that she was not against the updating of opera in principle. In fact she thought the production of Madama Butterfly performed last year was one of the most beautiful she had ever seen.
In trying to modernize the Metropolitan Opera Peter Gelb is paying less attention to its older audience in an attempt to bring in a younger one. What attracts young people? As a young person myself I feel ill-equipped to answer for my demographic. G and I loved the new production but both agreed that we would have loved the old one as well. What we found powerful and exciting was the experience of having the singers’ actual voices, un-amplified, surrounding us even from the cheap seats. It will never cease to amaze me that a human being can create such a sound. I tend to feel that seeing opera in HD is less magical because of the lack of contact with those sound waves but if you’re interested in experimenting with opera before taking the leap watch the new production of Tosca on the big screen this weekend at BAM. Let me know what you think.