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Ekaterina Siurina (Susanna) and Simon Keenlyside (Count) [Photo copyright Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera]
12 Nov 2007

Le Nozze di Figaro – Metropolitan Opera

Le Nozze di Figaro, in 1786, was the longest and most elaborate opera buffa ever composed and (though it is seldom given complete) is still the longest you are likely to see in the regular repertory.

W. A. Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro – Metropolitan Opera
10 November 2007

Ekaterina Siurina (Susanna), Anja Harteros (Countess), Kate Lindsey (Cherubino), Marie McLaughlin (Marcellina), Bryn Terfel (Figaro), Simon Keenlyside (Count), Maurizio Muraro (Don Bartolo), Greg Fedderly (Don Basilio); conducted by Philippe Jordan.

Above: Ekaterina Siurina (Susanna) and Simon Keenlyside (Count)
All photos © Ken Howard courtesy of Metropolitan Opera

 

There are so many variables that a critic can easily find something to object to. A Countess short of breath in “Porgi amor,” with which (no warm-up) she opens Act II; a Cherubino too feminine for adolescent male outpourings; a Count insufficiently virile for his masculine vanity (the engine that drives the plot) to be credible; a Marcellina too young to be Figaro’s mother (Beaumarchais turns Oedipus into farce here, showing how close tragedy and comedy really are); a lackluster conductor; a “concept” staging that ignores half the plot; an ugly set; an incompetent fandango or leap from the window – there is always (as Gilda Radner would say) something. Attending the Met’s Figaro in a year when few world-famous names have signed on for it, the manipulator of the poison pen whets his fangs in malicious anticipation.

At the matinee of November 10, the Met fooled me: until the last two minutes of the staging (and then it was Jonathan Miller’s unaltered original direction that let me down, not anything the performers did), Le Nozze was as near perfect as you are likely to get, and none of those obvious lapses occurred. Anja Harteros sang both the Countess’s arias flawlessly and was, in addition, a radiant beauty whose neglect by any husband puzzled everyone and made him look an oaf. She won the ovation of the afternoon – even for one who missed the angelic quality Kiri Te Kanawa brought to the Countess’s final lines of forgiveness. (The opera – and buffo in general – is primarily about forgiveness for everybody’s human imperfections – which is why the original, imperial audience found it easy to overlook the revolutionary subtext.) Ekaterina Siurina, a plump Russian tidbit, as Susanna sang a radiant “Deh vieni non tardar” and a “Venite, inginocchiatevi” with the proper giggly bounce. Kate Lindsey is a real find – her Cherubino looked like an adolescent boy, a very pretty one to be sure but with an arrogant chin and a “street” sort of strut that made this cocksure kid a credible threat to the older males. She sang gloriously too. Marie McLaughlin made an ardent but not preposterous Marcellina – for once one regretted the omission of her aria – and Anne-Carolyn Bird, though a bit tall, sang a sweet Barberina.

Harteros_Countess.png Anja Harteros as the Countess

Among the men, Bryn Terfel naturally stood out in the title role. I did not like his Figaro when the production was brand new – he seemed so anxious to show what an actor he was that he huffed and puffed and groaned and grimaced instead of singing; Mozart took a back seat to Beaumarchais. He has calmed down considerably over the years, and though still a bouncing buffo-man with plenty of time for comedy (if his pretence of jumping off the balcony is not quite believable), he now sings the arias at a less frenetic pace, with more of the elegance they require and reward. Simon Keenlyside played the Count as an elegant fop, forever tossing his curls and pratfalling on the polished floors, but this never interfered with his musical authority. Maurizio Murano’s blowhard Bartolo, Greg Fedderly’s slithy Basilio, and Patrick Carfizzi’s lumpish Antonio earned most of the day’s laughs.

Philippe Jordan is a young Swiss who conducts with zest and delight, as if he wanted to grab you by the ears and prove this is a masterpiece with charms you never suspected – hardly necessary with Figaro, but what I mean is, he takes none of it for granted, he is thrilled by the music and eager to share.

Siurina__Terfel_and_Keenlys.pngEkaterina Siurina (Susanna), Bryn Terfel (Figaro) and Simon Keenlyside (Count)

And what did I object to about the conclusion? In the Met’s rush to get the Countess into a new and glittery gown for the finale, no one has thought (and Mr. Miller years ago did not think) to have her show the ring to the Count, revealing to him that she is the mysterious lady he made love to in the dark. The audience knows this, and Figaro and Susanna know it, but the Count does not, and his heartfelt, aristocratic apology is inexplicable if he doesn’t. The laws of farce are immutable: If you do not tie all the knots, the machine unravels. It’s such an easy piece of business to fix – and so satisfying when it’s fixed. Patch it up, Met.

John Yohalem

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