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Luca Pisaroni as Figaro [Photo by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
04 Dec 2009

Le Nozze di Figaro at the MET

The best news about the Met’s eleven-year-old Jonathan Miller production of Le Nozze di Figaro is that it has been restaged by Gregory Keller, more tautly spun, many elegant jokes or character moments inserted, several idiocies discarded and with plenty of room remaining for singers with a flair for it (such as Luca Pisaroni and Isabel Leonard) to invent comic business of their own.

W.A. Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro

Susanna: Lisette Oropesa; Countess: Annette Dasch; Marcellina: Ann Murray; Cherubino: Isabel Leonard; Barberina: Ashley Emerson; Figaro: Luca Pisaroni; Count: Ludovic Tézier; Don Bartolo: Christophoros Stamboglis; Don Basilio: Greg Fedderly. Conducted by Fabio Luisi. Metropolitan Opera, performance of November 30.

Above: Luca Pisaroni as Figaro

All photos by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera

 

I’m particularly pleased that the ring is in its proper place at the final curtain. Remember the ring? (as Anna Russell would say.) This ring is the diamond the Count gives Susanna in the dark in Act IV, as down-payment on her imminent seduction, never realizing that it is not Susanna at all but his own wife on whose finger he has placed it. Subsequently, at the end of the opera, when all stratagems are unveiled, the Countess shows him the ring is on her finger — and only then is he forced to face, and publicly repent, his follies — which she forgives — appropriately concluding this longest and most sublime of buffo operas. In Miller’s original staging — in keeping, perhaps, with that gentleman’s professed disdain for sentimental tradition — she did not show her husband the ring, and he had no reason to believe she was the woman he had wooed in the dark. In other words, though we knew who was who, the Count never found out and we never knew what or whether he was repenting. The heavenly ending became acrid, uncertain, irritating. There was no resolution. Why bother? Why bother ending the music in the proper key? Why not stop five bars short at some other note? Because all things are synchronized here, as Mozart and da Ponte designed them to be, and the palace of Aguasfrescas becomes an idealized version of our own imperfect world, that’s why. Anyway: the ring is now on the right finger, shown to the right man at the right moment, and all’s that much righter with the world.

Another nice touch: Susanna and Marcellina symbolize their new friendship when they bump heads while heading out the same door in Act III — and we are reminded of their feud to the death back in Act I — but this time, as allies, they burst into giggles and squeeze through arm in arm. The effect may be borrowed from Verdi’s Falstaff (and he set it to music there), but it wasn’t an original bit with him either: Figaro, like Falstaff and so much great humane comedy, is about irreconcilables who forgive and reconcile. The audience also loved it when Susanna demonstrated the way a “lady” sashays, and “masculine” cross-cross-dressed Cherubino imitated her — but the audience (and I) loved that silly flounce when my grandmother took me to my first Figaro forty years ago.

Whoever is running the surtitles this year, by the way, is clever enough to know when to let them go dark — so the audience is obliged to look at the stage — and the laughs may come from the activity going on there — and they do.

I wish I’d liked the music-making of this revival half as much as I enjoyed the mugging. None of it was less than major house quality, but few moments transported me. Ah, where have they gone? Those sweet moments of joy and pleasure?

Oropesa_Susanna_Met.pngLisette Oropesa as Susanna

Luca Pisaroni, a lithe, handsome fellow, spry as an acrobat and very much the self-important barber of Seville, has a dark and pleasing voice, suave musicality, and his every word means something — or two things — sometimes three. It is not, however, a voice, on this showing, of supreme power or authority. He was born to please but he does not overwhelm. Still: This was a performance of star quality if not incandescent gleam.

Lisette Oropesa’s light, pert soprano and light, pert performance seemed too American, sassy and shallow, for Susanna, this bride of sense but also considerable sensibility. Susanna experiences much of the pain that gives depth to true comedy, when confused by the Count’s advances, or upset by Figaro’s apparent betrayals. Oropesa’s voice lacks the heart-stopping thrill, the passion of a girl on the brink of true consummation, that the finest Susannas bring to the part. “Deh, vieni, non tardar” was a showpiece, prettily sung — but this is song that must have feeling in it. Oropesa is not a leading lady yet.

Leonard_Cherubino_Met.pngIsabel Leonard as Cherubino

Cherubino got the second biggest hand of the night, after Figaro’s, and Isabel Leonard, quite the most boyish, adolescently awkward Cherubino of my experience, earned that hand with her delicious acting. Her singing was slightly less on target, a bit under pitch in “Non so piú,” but I hope she can build on her good will to give us more feeling in the arias in time.

Annette Dasch has a sizable, attractive voice, and if a run or two got away from her during her arias, that is regrettably normal. She played the cut-up rather than the grand Countess (Countesses are usually one or the other), and she was funny, which suits most of this production, but one missed aristocratic bearing, vocal and otherwise. I missed, too, Hei-kyung Hong’s graceful trick of reclining into visible reverie while singing “Dove sono” — but it probably isn’t easy to sing persuasively in that position if one is not Madame Hong. As with many debutante Countesses lately — and a great many sopranos have made their house debuts in that role in this production — I sensed that Dasch was giving it her best shot but would rather have been singing something else. (Her bio mentions performances as Elettra, Donna Anna and Verdi’s Desdemona, which are all within the Countess’s fach.)

Ludovic Tézier made a colorless Count, lacking both the brutality of Dwayne Croft and the dangerous attractiveness of Mariusz Kwiecien. The Count must have authority, we must believe he is terrifying — at least, that the rest of the household are terrified of him — or none of their desperate plots make much sense. In a production of Beaumarchais’ play some years ago, Christopher Reeve played the Count, looking as majestic as Apollo — and then tripping over his own feet in pratfalls all the funnier for their contrast with his affect. But as soon as he recovered and stood commandingly upright again, we were once again stirred to reverence and fear — and that should be our feeling for the Count. Tézier was gentlemanly (and those damned scene-stealing hunting dogs are happily gone), and the fioritura in his aria were graceful if not quite angry, but he seemed too hangdog to be a threat to anyone. Pisaroni’s Figaro didn’t have much respect for him, so why should anyone else?

Christophoros Stamboglis, a replacement, sang Don Bartolo. He sang the part effectively and played it to the hilt, slipping nimbly into the many ensemble scenes. Greg Fedderly sang Don Basilio well but with a bit — how shall I put it? — too strong a flame. This is partly the fault of the costume — it’s hard to be masculine in lavender satin, with pink stockings and a red wig. Ann Murray made rather a shrill and wobbly harridan of Marcellina, but was most affecting on finding her long-lost son. Tiny Ashley Emerson brought an impressive sweetness to Barberina’s lines.

Fabio Luisi led a brisk, well-paced account of the score — nothing dragged in this long evening of a mad day.

John Yohalem

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