We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


Ildar Abdrazakov and Isabel Leonard (photo by Ken Howard)

What is there new to say about Mozart's most perfect opera, Nozze di Figaro? It is not only a story of wily servants triumphing over clueless aristocrats; it is also the story of four couples in different stages of their relationships.  Hormonal Cherubino is in the flirtation stage; by the end of the opera he will be betrothed to adorable Barbarina.  Clever Figaro and charming Susanna are madly in love and about to wed--but touched by jealousy.  The nasty lascivious Count Almaviva cheats recklessly on the once-spunky but now lovelorn Countess.  Grumpy Dr. Bartolo and his grasping housekeeper Marcellina were once lovers and will be reunited by circumstance.

Sir Richard Eyre's new "Upstairs/Downstairs" production at the Metropolitan Opera is, for the most part, rather wonderful.  There is a lot going on onstage; during the overture, we see one of the Count's conquests hastily grabbing her clothes and running offstage and, as the grand turntable stage makes its turns, we see servants going about their business.  Characters are always motivated for their "stage business".  Although the production brings out the darkness in the Beaumarchais tale (so magnificently adapted by Lorenzo Da Ponte), there is an abundance of humor in this stage business.  

For unknown and irrelevant reasons, Eyre has elected to set the story in the 1930's. This is not a damaging update; perhaps there were Counts in 1930's Spain and perhaps Cherubino was being sent off to fight in the Civil War.  Whether the droit de seigneur still existed, we know not.  It may not have even existed in Mozart's day and perhaps was used by Beaumarchais with dramatic license.  The real problem with setting the opera in the 30's is the unflattering hairstyles and costumes.  Poor Susanna looks just like every other female servant in the house.

Maestro James Levine received a grand ovation from the audience, actually waved at his adoring fans and gave his customary illustrious performance.  The cast worked well as an ensemble and were almost entirely wonderful.  Chief among the wonderfuls was mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard who seems to own the role both vocally and dramatically.  She just keeps getting better and better.  This time, her sense of humor appeared sharper.  Just to watch her portraying a youth dressed in women's clothes and teetering on high heels was a major treat.

Ildar Abdrazakov made a delightfully sympathetic Figaro with his rich bass filling the cavernous Met.  Baritone Peter Mattei gave a rather darker and more brutal take on the Count and sounded just about perfect.  Soprano Marlis Petersen created a likable Susanna. Only soprano Amanda Majeski disappointed as the Countess.  Vocally, her voice seemed undersupported; she seemed to struggle with Levine's slow tempi in her big arias. We longed to see some of the spunkiness of Rosina and some of the dignity of her position in life but the performance seemed distant and lifeless.

Robert Pomakov made a terrifically pompous Dr. Bartolo and Susanne Mentzer shone as Marcellina.  Greg Fedderly was deliciously oily as the snooping gossipy Don Basilio.

Last but not least, Ying Fang, a member of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, fulfilled the demands of the role of Barbarina better than any we have ever seen.  Her lovely focused soprano and astute acting were a joy to behold.

Although we disliked the costumes, we give kudos to Rob Howell for his imaginative turntable set.  It permitted characters to be seen as they moved from one room of the house to another and lent an overall freedom to the drama.  Paule Constable's lighting was alright but we wish more had been done with the sky behind the house. The action takes place during one long day and the passage of time could have been indicted rather easily.  That dawn lasted forever!

To those readers who think I am opposed to new productions, these opinions may serve to indicate otherwise.  Eyre's production certainly shed light on the darkness of the score and also on Mozart's negative take on males in general.  In this production, everyone is scheming.  Sometimes funny, something not so funny.

(c) meche kroop

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