NEW YORK (AP) — You've probably heard how all three original stars dropped out of the Metropolitan Opera's new "Tosca" and how the conductor had to be replaced twice. But did you know about the flap over the angel's wings?
A replica of the bronze statue of Archangel Michael that stands on the roof of Rome's Castel Sant'Angelo sword in hand was supposed to dominate designer John MacFarlane's third-act set for Puccini's melodrama.
But dominate it didn't — at first.
"When it came onstage last summer we looked at it and we said, 'Too small!'" MacFarlane said in an interview. "Which was absolutely terrifying considering the costs involved. It was one of these moments where the sweat is coming out of your brow."
Rather than rebuild the statue, which had been crafted in the Met's scenic shop out of steel, plywood, foam, fiberglass and aqua resin, MacFarlane decided to amputate the wings and replace them with a larger pair.
"They got the angel down on the ground, and I stood on top of the superstructure and laid two pieces of twin wall under the existing sculpted wings," he recalled, "and they drafted it out, and I yelled, 'A bit more, a bit more, now stop!'"
In the end, the new, more imposing wings were "about 25 percent bigger" than the originals, MacFarlane said. "It's remarkable that such a small adjustment can make such a monumental difference."
The wings in all their glory will be on display in movie theaters around the world Saturday when "Tosca" is broadcast as part of the Met's "Live in HD" series. Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva stars in the title role, with Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo as her lover, Mario Cavaradossi, and Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic as their nemesis, Baron Scarpia. Emmanuel Villaume conducts.
MAKING "TOSCA" GREAT AGAIN
Ensuring the proper wingspan was just one concern for MacFarlane, who spent a week in Rome doing research to help him recreate site-specific settings for each of "Tosca" three acts. Met General Manager Peter Gelb had told director David McVicar that he wanted sumptuous sets and costumes to replace a grim, revisionist production by Luc Bondy that was disliked by the public and most critics when it premiered in 2009. Many patrons longed for a production on the scale of Franco Zeffirelli's lavish version that had premiered in 1985.
And that's just what McVicar and MacFarlane provided.
"It's hugely expensive, but I know it's the size it has to be to lay a few ghosts," MacFarlane said. "To give them the 'Tosca' this house needs and wants."
When Gelb saw the set models and sketches two years ago he was delighted, and MacFarlane suggested they show them to the Met's board. ("Me and my big mouth!") So in March 2016 he and McVicar appeared in the board room with "three big model boxes, all the drawings, and 60 to 70 costume designs on the wall."
The 35 or so people who attended the meeting "loved it and said, 'Oh, thank God, we've got a 'Tosca'!'" MacFarlane said.
A LEAP OF FAITH
The rooftop setting for Act 3 provides "Tosca" with one of the most famous exits in opera — Tosca leaps to her death from the castle wall after her lover has been executed by a firing squad. In the new production, Yoncheva jumps into a box filled with 2,000 6-inch foam cubes to ensure she won't be hurt. MacFarlane notes that in theory she would land in a courtyard "which is actually where the executions were held, rather than on the roof."
Tosca's leap has occasionally proved hazardous. In Vienna in 2015, soprano Martina Serafin broke a leg when she landed awkwardly on a mattress that was supposed to cushion her fall. Bondy's production has the soprano rush up a flight of stairs and disappear from view. A few second later a stunt double attached to wires appeared as if falling through the air.
Soprano Montserrat Caballe, known for her large size as well as her incomparable voice, found a different way of avoiding risk when she opened the Met season in the Zeffirelli production in 1985. As described by a New York Times critic: "When it came time for her to leap to her death over the ramparts ... this Tosca simply walked into the wings, looking rather like Queen Victoria out for a stroll."
WHERE TO SEE IT
"Tosca" will be shown starting at 12:55 p.m. Eastern on Saturday. A list of theaters can be found at the Met's website: www.metopera.org/hd. In the U.S. it will be repeated on Wednesday, Jan. 31, at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. local time.