Many readers may be tired of hearing about the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Tosca, the one that caused Luc Bondy to be soundly booed on opening night, propelling it into far more media coverage than it probably deserved. As a preview of today's high-definition screening of the production, in cinemas around the world, including some in France, Renaud Machart published an interview with the embattled Swiss director (Luc Bondy : "'Tosca' n'est pas un mythe, c'est un thriller", October 10), in Le Monde (my translation):
Did the Met offer you Tosca or was it you who suggested it?
Peter Gelb, the director of the Met, had offered me something else that I had turned down. I let him know that I would love to direct Tosca, an opera that, like my father, I adore. He had a verbal commitment with another director, who finally agreed to give it up. We decided to do it.
Does Mr. Gelb micromanage?
He takes a keen interest but never interferes. He asks questions when he does not understand what I want to do. For example, he found that the staging was a little too much in the darkness. We worked on that issue. Still, his support was unfailing when, even before the first performance, in the Met's administrative board meeting, people were offended that I had someone embrace the Virgin Mary in the first act and that there were prostitutes in the second. No one is shocked that Scarpia is a bloodthirsty torturer, but on the other hand if he is shown as an active lecher, as it is written in Sardou's original play, that is a problem. People think Tosca is a myth when it is really a heavily sadistic and erotic thriller.
Have you encountered this kind of problem elsewhere?
Nowhere else, and I have never been booed like that. I would understand that attitude if I was interpreting the work by distorting it. But these things are in the play and in the libretto! Have these censors read them before they protest like that?
Your friend Gerard Mortier, former head of the Opéra de Paris, rolled his eyes when he learned that you were directing Tosca...
He is not the only one who does not like Puccini. When I speak to my colleague Peter Sellars about Puccini, he says that he cannot get through more than a few measures. I do not understand that ostracism, no more than I understand it with Tchaikovsky. I do not like these judgments between good and bad taste, these classes that people perceive. I just like being involved with works that shake things up. That is interesting.