When Aleksandra Kurzak, a graceful lyric soprano with impressive coloratura, released an album of surprising, heavy repertoire from the Romantic and verismo eras two years ago, she seemed to announce: Staged performances are on the way.
Her Tosca arrived at the Metropolitan Opera last March, and on Tuesday, she revisited the title role of Puccini’s tragedy in David McVicar’s attractive, if stolid, production. For a singer who made her house debut in 2004, scaling Olympia’s vertiginous runs and high notes in Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffmann,” “Tosca” is a departure. Wagnerians and Verdians have sung it; Mozarteans, too. But an Olympia? That’s rare.
On Tuesday, Kurzak’s best moments were gentle ones. Tosca, an opera singer herself, is often portrayed as a volcanic personality, a creature made for the stage whose feelings constantly threaten eruption. But Kurzak’s softly focused heroine was the kind of performer who transforms before an audience. Jealous tantrums and high moral stakes spurred her to summon fire and grit.
Kurzak seemed to manipulate her otherwise silky tone to make it bigger, darker and more dramatic. It sometimes sounded swallowed and breathy. Whenever she let a more fragile sound emerge, alighting on a silvery high note or shaping throwaway lines with color and care, it was captivating. The end of her “Vissi d’arte” — when most singers are recovering from the aria’s exposed climax — was exquisitely handled.
It’s unusual to remember a Tosca for the small moments instead of the big ones, but Kurzak’s approach made her Roman diva touchingly human and acutely tragic.
In the orchestra pit, Carlo Rizzi also mined Puccini’s lacerating score for tenderness. Scrappy filigree accompanied the Sacristan (a characterful Patrick Carfizzi) in his fussy, officious role as the opera’s designated comic relief. The strings shivered with romance during a transitional lull in Tosca’s Act I scene with Cavaradossi. Rizzi let notes hang in the air with a hint of menace, then turned up the intensity for the score’s splashy, hair-raising torments. In Act III, he painted a dusky morning scene and signaled the nefarious business of execution to come without shortchanging either effect.
Michael Fabiano lent Cavaradossi a handsome, propulsive tenor. His middle voice has consistently been gorgeous, and his stage presence kinetic, but as recently as a 2018 “Mefistofele” and a 2019 “Manon” at the Met, his high notes were unreliable. No issue there: In “Tosca,” they rang out with confidence and muscularity, capped by a dome of sound. Fabiano’s full-throttle style in “Recondita armonia” revealed the heart of a revolutionary rather than an artist; and if soft singing in his Act III solos was weak, his desperately clinging to Tosca before his execution was rending.
Luca Salsi, an engrossing, casually evil Scarpia, sang in a manner more like pitched speech, pointing his voice into the hall in a way that balanced the police chief’s debonair manner and thinly veiled malice. As Spoletta, Rodell Rosel was a smarmy henchman; as Sciarrone, Christopher Job was a rugged one.
McVicar’s staging is so harmless, with just enough good taste to keep detractors at bay, that it already seems like a part of the Met’s furniture, despite being only five years old. Still, with the right performers bringing a sense of intimacy to its vast canvas, it feels like a success.
Through Nov. 4, then again next spring, at the Metropolitan Opera, Manhattan; metopera.org.