Vermeer’s Masterpiece “The Milkmaid”

Special exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through November 29.

There are many reasons to find Thomas Kinkade annoying, but top on the list for me is his trademark of “Painter of Light” as a nickname for himself. The term is hopelessly cheesy, of course, but even setting that aside, it’s offensively presumptuous. If anyone deserves such an exalted sobriquet, surely it’s someone like Johannes Vermeer.

That, at least, is what I was raised to believe. Vermeer is one of my father’s favorite artists, and I have a vivid childhood memory of Dad showing me reproductions of Young Woman with a Water Pitcher and Girl with a Pearl Earring and teaching me how to follow the sources of light in the paintings and recognize how Vermeer captured the way light reflected differently on different surfaces. It’s one of those little moments that, for whatever reason, really stuck with me. I always seek out the Dutch master’s works when I have the opportunity, and when Mom and Dad happened to visit New York while the Met had a special Vermeer exhibit on display, of course there was no question that we would go.

Tosca

The Metropolitan Opera on Saturday, October 17.

On Saturday night, no one booed at Tosca.

Normally, that would go without saying, but this new production famously received an ugly audience response at its gala debut a few weeks ago. After more than two decades with Franco Zeffirelli’s extravagantly detailed production, which painstakingly recreated the real-life Roman settings, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned a new production, by Swiss director Luc Bondy, that gleefully rejects that kind of spectacular approach in favor of a cold, stripped-down aesthetic, which displeased many opera aficionados, to put it mildly.

For the record, I never saw the Zeffirelli Tosca, so I can’t work myself into a fury about Bondy supposedly desecrating the beloved Puccini opera, but I do think this new production is muddled, at best. The looming, overlarge sets swallow the performers. The costumes and sets comprise a motley, unmatched assemblage. (Just what time period are we supposed to be in?) And the Act II silliness with the prostitutes feels condescending and superfluous and therefore rather pathetic. The whole gesamtkunstwerk concept notwithstanding, though, opera is ultimately about the music, and musically, this Tosca was worth enduring those flaws.