Six years after its contested 2009 world première at the Metropolitan Opera, Luc Bondy's disputed production of Giacomo Puccini's Tosca bowed its third Teatro alla Scala staging here on Monday night. Despite directorial tweaks by Marie-Louise Bischofberger, it continues to draw consternation from the Milanese audience.

Béatrice Uria-Monzon (Tosca) and Željko Lučić (Scarpia) © Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano | Teatro alla Scala
Béatrice Uria-Monzon (Tosca) and Željko Lučić (Scarpia)
© Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Based on Victorien Sardou's play of the same title, Puccini's Rome-based tale of torture, murder, perversion, sadism and political oppression under a church setting read as sentimental melodrama to disgruntled critics when it premiered in 1900 at Teatro Costanzi in Rome. At La Scala – despite nips and tucks of its previous 2011 and 2012 Luc Bondy restaging that replaced Luca Ronconi’s 1997 production – it still struggles to find gravity and gravitas.

Richard Peduzzi's pared-down sets, which update Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa's libretto to the early 20th century, are mere, austere suggestions. Act III's Castel Sant'Angelo upper decks, arranged in manicured brickwork, reference Act I's Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, laid in arches resonant of de Chirico's Turin architectures, sparsely decorated in folding wooden chairs, the artist’s scaffolding, a gangplank pulpit and a holy water font.

To soften Fascist overtones, Act II’s set has been overhauled. Gone are the dingy tans and mustard yellows of Scarpia's gritty apartment on the top floor of the Farnese Palace, tattooed in warmonger maps. His newly-appointed, streamlined quarters have been painted in lush, intimate, velvety-crimson that kicks into iridescent, blood-red washes by Michael Bauer's lights after his murder.

Milena Canonero's meticulous costumes continue to enchant, such as Scarpia's courtesans in gauzy silks and corkscrew curls modeled after the Three Graces of classical mythology; his oxblood leather gloves matched to the scarlet lining of an animal-skin jacket; the polished, silver muskets of the pristinely-uniformed firing squad; and the Te Deum's gold-embroidered pageantry fogged under censer smoke.

Željko Lučić (Scarpia) © Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano | Teatro alla Scala
Željko Lučić (Scarpia)
© Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

But Bischofberger's mended fences couldn’t corral headlong rushes into clumsy, inert vignettes such as Tosca's bumbling, anticlimactic escape into the castle parapets, nor did Carlo Rizzi's safe, by-the-book conducting lend drama or expression to Puccini's colorful quirk and stormy leitmotivs.

The cast was anchored by the menacing chief of police, Scarpia, sung in compact, coherent dramatic language by Željko Lučić. In aquiline profile, he rationed rage for an icy, aristocratic edge. "Tosca Divina" was sung by Béatrice Uria-Monzon as a skittish bohemian with scarf-wrapped tresses and oversized jewels. Although she mastered a velvety, pleasant "Vissi d'arte" vibrato, Act II was underpinned by nervous flutter and agitation at Scarpia's predatory aggression – the in extremis tussle was clumsily undignified – and she lacked charm, fire and vibrancy.  

Béatrice Uria-Monzon (Tosca) and Fabio Sartori (Cavaradossi) © Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano | Teatro alla Scala
Béatrice Uria-Monzon (Tosca) and Fabio Sartori (Cavaradossi)
© Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Fabio Sartori's Cavaradossi was an earnest, optimistic artist in a blue shirt and romantic hunting boots. He sensitively phrased “Recondita armonia” and “E lucevan le stelle” with round tones and sustained climaxes, but his limited stage language was tethered to throwing up his hands at Tosca's jealousies like an exasperated mother to a petulant child. Spoletta (Blagoj Nacoski) and Sciarrone (Frano Lufi) played efficient, black leather-clad bodyguards, Matteo Peirone's Sagrestano was a generically-bumbling facilitator and Alessandro Spina's Angelotti paced frantically in unmaterialistic measures.

Tosca is the kind of Puccini masterpiece that when done right, makes you forget all of his other operas, but with an uninspiring cast and crew, the evening’s anemic bloodletting was in vain.