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There is usually a comfortable formula to opening night of the Metropolitan Opera: big gowns, even bigger jewels, James Levine's curly head at the conductor's stand, a few arias, Champagne-filled intermissions and then a rousing standing ovation before everyone heads into the gala dinner. Not Monday night, when the new production of the Giacomo Puccini's tragic opera "Tosca" ended with angry, loud booing from furious audience members.
They weren't protesting the lovely performances (from Norwegian soprano Karita Mattila, tenor Marcelo Alvarez and baritone George Gagnidze) but the unconventional direction by Luc Bondy and the radically austere set from Richard Peduzzi. "It looked very German to me," said Zac Posen, who was busy explaining the difference between this premiere and Franco Zefirelli's beloved, luscious Italianate decor to his date, Mischa Barton.
It was her first time at the Met. "I had a day off [from 'The Beautiful Life'], so I decided to come," said the actress. Also there for the first time were Karolina Kurkova and Joy Bryant. "I have no frame of reference, so I loved it," said Bryant.
Opinions were more mixed among the Opera regulars: "I was warned this was a new production but I think it's great," said Martha Stewart, who like many, enjoys a good tragedy. "I love them all. I can't wait for all the people to die," she joked during an intermission, as Met doyenne Mercedes Bass mingled with Marie-Josee Kravis, Nancy Kissinger, Diane von Furstenberg and Oscar de la Renta.
Unexpected opera buff Trey Anastasio agreed. "I'm a tragedy fan," he said. "When I can't get enough tragedy in my own life, I come here," he said. (The former Phish frontman got the tickets as an early 45th birthday present from his wife, Susan.)
Meanwhile, Billy Joel was also on a date, with his newest girlfriend, Deborah Dampiere, but the two left before the tented dinner following the three and a half hour performance.
Soprano Renée Fleming, Edward Norton, Patricia Clarkson and a pregnant Leelee Sobieski and her fiance Adam Kimmel sat down for a recession-friendly repast of pasta bolognese and petit fours, while the director's choices‹and the boos — were discussed in every corner. "I think it's exciting," said Harvey Fierstein, who chatted about the production with friend Christine Baranski. "For the past 30 years, the opera audience has been so uptight. Finally they are involved."