Only in New York City would an essentially conventional, prudent opera director such as Luc Bondy be considered some sort of insane, incendiary bomb-thrower, the Piero Manzoni (link mildly NSFW) of the opera world. It's New York at its most unfavorable; the city where at the opera house, blessed are the meek because new things and new ideas make the audiences nervous and desperate, where singers get standing ovations, karaoke-style, just for showing up -- the Tosca premiere no exception -- and directors don't even have to be faithful to the libretto (a highly debatable definition to begin with) but they simply should be as Zeffirelli-like as they can.
"What would Franco do?", the director is supposed to think, then act accordingly: when in doubt, over-decorate, cram mind-numbing detail into every corner to show the audience that they really got their money's worth. Oh, and sex is also a very bad, scary thing -- and anyway, some big paper critics want the rape victims to be as hot as they can be -- "She was also remarkably unsexy, which made one wonder what Scarpia was so excited about", wrote the Wall Street Journal about poor Karita Mattila, that the financial newspaper, always pragmatic, simply didn't find rape-able -- not hot enough to be attacked by Scarpia, Tosca must not have asked for it badly enough.
One is therefore worried and a bit saddened by New York that as of late, gleefully collects opera directors heads like wildlife mounts in Teddy Roosevelt's study -- first Graham Vick then Mary Zimmerman and now Luc Bondy, the latest stag sacrificed on the altar of the city's opera-going mediocrity. Only in New York, seriously, a half-a$$ed minimalist like Bondy could be depicted as some sort of deranged Calixto Bieito by an audience eager to preserve (in amber) Franco Zeffirelli's stagings for all eternity (and obviously Frengo, for all his by0tchyness, does well what he does -- his old Bohème and Tosca and Aida and more than a few other stagings are indeed well thought out and worth seeing -- but, really, how many times? Like, forever?).
"To me, Eurotrash is Zeffirelli", Graham Vick once said, and it's hard not to think of his prophecy in the middle of all this Tosca chatter.
Bondy unsurprisingly and predictably got on the nerves of opera-goers that consider stark sets an insult to the art form -- they want opera as Moulin Rouge, as a Disneyland version of a romanticized, European past that might or might not have existed in the first place. Zeffirelli obviously delivers their goods, with more taste and talent than most of his contemporaries -- he is and will always remain a 1950s man, with the happy exception of his Busseto pocket-size "Aida". An audience that essentially knows what it wants -- traditional stagings, big stars (even in the sad twilights of their careers, see Pavarotti's last hurrah), big voices, designer costumes, expensive-looking sets -- is pretty hard to deal with, especially in a time of financial crisis. And for all the "Broadway Pete" talk, once the Met audience roughs up a couple more new directors -- one can only imagine what David McVicar's Pasolini-style Salome or his orgiastic Rigoletto would ignite among the Metropolitan opera-goers -- poor Peter Gelb will basically have to hire back Zeffirelli and have him rehash his old stuff, or raise poor Jean-Pierre Ponnelle from the dead, and then Luchino, too, and usher in the glorious new age of the zombie opera directors -- zombies who, famously, like to eat brains, and in their Metropolitan opera outings would probably end up skipping dinner, if last night's reaction is anything to go by.