Passionate Opera Crowd Likes its Puccini Predictable

09/22/2009 2:08 PM |

Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera

Mistakenly, the opera hall has a reputation as a stodgy mausoleum of rarefied airs. Those who have been, however, know that it can get rowdy at the Met, especially in the upper tiers, which often shake with applause when the show is good. Or gush forth with jeers when it’s not, which was apparently the case last night.

That’s when the Met’s new season opened, with Luc Bondy’s new production of Puccini’s Tosca; it replaced Franco Zeffirelli’s lavish 25-year-old production, part of a larger move by Met director Peter Gelb to attract new audiences by ushering in new productions by hot directors. (Though Gelb has had his job for three years, this is the first season in which he bears responsibility for all the productions.)

According to reports, Bondy and the production team took to the stage during final ovations and were booed off. It must have depended where you sat; one Times reporter writes that “the cheers and applause were louder” than the boos, while the Huffington Post reported that the reaction was “the loudest and most sustained booing in memory…what had been a standing ovation for the cast into a raucous protest, prompting the management to bring down the curtain.” The Times’ critic writes, “If there were cheers among the jeers, they were drowned out.”

Judging from the review on Bloomberg, it was an issue of stodgy traditionalists versus progressive modernists: Reactionaries v. Gelb. Reviewer Manuela Hoelterhoff, representing the former, writes that the Zeffirelli was “a production adored by many, including me…He injected a sweeping sense of doomed grandeur into this story.” Bondy’s, on the other hand, is “short on sets and costumes and imagination.”
Anthony Tommasini, in a far more measured review in the Times, calls the booing unfair but understandable; I defer to his judgment. The Bondy production might have failed, especially when pitted against crowd-pleasing Zeffirelli opulence. (I’m as much a sucker for grandeur as anyone.) But we should still commend Gelb for trying something new. Keep the experiments coming; the Met, Grand as it is, could use a little shaking up.