On Friday January 12, the streaming service Stage Access broadcast the Vienna State Opera’s 2020 production of Tosca to commemorate the 123rd anniversary of the great opera. The next day ,the Metropolitan Opera transmitted an HD broadcast of Umberto Giordano’s rarely seen 125 year-old opera Fedora.
Tosca starred the reigning queen of dramatic sopranos, the 51 year old Russian Anna Netrebko, while Fedora starred her heir-apparent, the 41 year old Bulgarian Sonya Yoncheva. Each singing actress is known for both their acting and singing prowess, intelligence and passion, and great stage charisma. Their performances illuminate the nature of successful operatic production.
Each opera features a woman in love betrayed by her lover, and each devolves into a situation in which death seems the only solution to the trapped heroine.
Floria Tosca is a devout Catholic, having been raised in a convent school. Though she never expresses any political opinion, we assume her sympathies are with the clerical government under attack by the Napoleonic revolutionaries. Tosca’s lover, Mario Cavaradossi is a revolutionary who has successfully kept his political allegiance a secret form her. That secret leads to her lover’s torture and both of their deaths.
Fedora Romazov is a wealthy widow engaged to marry a debt-ridden Count Vladimir. The Count is assassinated and in the course of the investigation Fedora learns the count’s secret- he had numerous mistresses in addition to Fedora. On the trail of her fiancé’s murderer, Fedora falls madly in love with Loris Ipanov who also has a secret – he was the murderer of the count. When Loris begins to denounce Fedora for causing the execution of his co-conspirator, his brother, and the grieving death of his mother, Fedora sees no way out of her situation but death.
Both productions have exquisite supporting players, musicians, and scenery. Netrebko’s Cavaradossi is none other than her husband Yusif Eyvasof, a better tenor than the critics are willing to admit. Together they have a chemistry only available to married couples, like the famous Lunts and the Burton-Taylors. Netrebko even manages to give a rather unique spin on the character’s developmental arc. She first appears seemingly playing a grand diva. Its doesn’t quite seem natural to her lowly roots. In the genteel but relentless interrogation by Scarpia (Wolfgang Koch) the pretense brakes, and we witness a terrified, grieving woman, a sincere Catholic who protects the souls of herself and her dead tormentor by surrounding him with a crucifix and candles before she exits. Conductor Bertrand de Billy gives the production an intelligent reading which accentuates the great passion at its heart.
Sonya Yoncheva is likewise surrounded by a stellar supporting cast. The always dashing Piotr Beczala offers a Loris whom any woman would find hard to resist. Lucas Meacham continues to turn every role he touches into gold with a nuanced treatment of the complicated French diplomate De Siriex, who with the delightful Olga of Rosa Feola provide some lightness to the opera’s overall dark pessimism. Conductor Marco Armiliato’ control of the dynamic score shows why Giordano’s work lasted all these years. Hit or miss director David McVicar has created a definite hit this time through the scene designs of Charles Edwards, the costume designs of Brigitte Reiffenstuel, and the lighting of Sara Erde.
The production history of Fedora is so sparse that one cannot see what new innovations or insights Yoncheva brings to the role. Nevertheless her presence, like Netrebko’s, captivates the audience throughout, all eyes and ears are with her whenever she is on stage.
Both Floria Tosca and Fedora Romazov wear crown-like tiaras. These particular divas deserve the honor,