Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Barber of Seville Is Fun in Tucson

On March 4, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in Tucson. Allen Moyer designed the bright and happy scenery for performances at Minnesota Opera,

Moody, Mysterious Morel

Long Beach Opera often takes willing audiences on an unexpected journey and such is undeniably the case with its fascinating traversal of The Invention of Morel.

Acis and Galatea: 2018 London Handel Festival

Katie Hawks makes quite a claim for Handel’s Acis and Galatea when, in her programme article, she describes it as the composer’s ‘most perfect work’. Surely, one might feel, this is a somewhat hyperbolic evaluation of a 90-minute pastoral masque, or serenade, based on an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which has its origins in a private entertainment?

Oriana, Fairest Queen: Stile Antico celebrate the life and times of Elizabeth I

Stile Antico’s lunchtime play-list, celebrating the Virgin Queen’s long reign, shuffled between sacred and secular works, from penitential to patriotic, from sensual to celebratory.

Daniel Kramer's new La traviata at English National Opera

Verdi's La traviata is one of those opera which every opera company needs to have in its repertoire, and productions need to balance intelligent exploration of the issues raised by the work with the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with an opera which is likely to attract audience members who are not regular opera-goers.

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Hamlet abridged and enriched in Amsterdam

French grand opera and small opera companies are an unlikely combination. Yet OPERA2DAY, a company of modest means, is currently touring the Netherlands with Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

The ROH's first production of From the House of the Dead

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production for the ROH of From the House of the Dead is ‘new’ in several regards. It’s (astonishingly) the first time that Janáček’s last opera has been staged at Covent Garden; it’s Warlikowski’s debut at Covent Garden; and the production uses a new 2017 critical edition prepared by John Tyrrell.

Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With artifice, disguise, and questions on fidelity as the basis of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the composer’s mature opera has returned to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

The big musical set pieces in Turandot require voice, voice, and more voice, and San Diego Opera has gifted us with a world-class cast of singing actors.

Dialogues de Carmélites at the Guildhall School: spiritual transcendence and transfiguration

Four years have passed since my last Dialogues des Carmélites, and on that occasion - Robert Carsen’s production for the ROH - heightened dramatic intensity, revolutionary insurrection (enhanced by an oppressed populace formed by a 67-strong Community Ensemble) and, under the baton of Simon Rattle, luxuriant musical rapture, were the order of the day.

'B & B’ in a new key

Seattle Opera’s new production of Béatrice et Bénédict is best regarded as a noble experiment, performed expressly to see if Berlioz’ delectable 1862 opéra comique can successfully be brought into the living repertory outside its native France. As such, it is quite a success.

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.



Amanda Majeski as Countess Almaviva, Marlis Petersen as Susanna, Ildar Abdrazakov as Figaro, and Peter Mattei as Count Almaviva [Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera]
28 Oct 2014

The Met’s ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ a happy marriage of ensemble singing and acting

The cast of supporting roles was especially strong in the company’s new production of Mozart’s matchless masterpiece

The Met’s ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ a happy marriage of ensemble singing and acting

A review by David Rubin

Above: Amanda Majeski as Countess Almaviva, Marlis Petersen as Susanna, Ildar Abdrazakov as Figaro, and Peter Mattei as Count Almaviva [Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera]


If I could bottle one production of one opera to pour for friends who have never seen an opera before but are curious about the art form, it would be this new production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.

This Figaro was very special for one reason only. It was not the singing, which was solid but not exceptional by Met standards. It was certainly not the updating of the action to 1930s Spain, nor the new set — a massive, claustrophobic, monochromatic clump of rotating gold cylinders. No, the pleasure came from the cast of young, athletic, handsome singers who acted as if they were part of the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago.

For fashioning this Figaro into a true ensemble piece we have to thank Sir Richard Eyre, who was in charge of the production. He made this Figaro a lively, funny theater piece, backed by Mozart’s matchless music.

The ringmaster of this Figaro was German soprano Marlis Petersen, the Susanna whom Figaro seeks permission to wed throughout the entire piece. On this afternoon, the opera should really have been titled “The Marriage of Susanna.” Petersen offered a welcome new perspective on this role of the maid in service to the Count and Countess Almaviva. She was no perky soubrette, bouncing around the stage. Rather, Petersen is tall, regal, handsome, cool and very sexy. It is quite clear why the Count lusts after her and wants to bed her before she weds Figaro — an opportunity the Count never achieves during four acts and nearly four hours of pure pleasure for the audience.

Even though Susanna has only one aria for herself, and that comes in the last act, she is on stage constantly, participating in numerous duets and ensemble numbers. She defined her character in the first scene, when she and Figaro are discussing the Count’s interest in Susanna as a bed partner, about which Figaro had been clueless. With graphic thrusts of her pelvis, Petersen made it clear what the Count wanted and suggested that she may be more sexually experienced than either Figaro or the Count imagined. When pretending to seduce the Count in Act Three, Petersen showed a lot of shapely leg.

Petersen was surrounded by a top-notch group of singing actors, almost all of who delivered solid vocal performances. Peter Mattei has played Count Almaviva all over the world. He has mastered projecting aristocratic arrogance and sexual menace. He was particularly strong in his Act Three aria Vedro mentr’io sospiro, in which he realizes Susannah is toying with him.

Ildar Abdrazakov was a Figaro not nearly as clever as the Figaro in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, which launches this tale of the Almavivas. This Figaro took his cues from Susanna. He was open faced and genial, but slow on the uptake. Those who saw the company’s Prince Igor last year will remember his strong baritone voice in the title role. He was equally resonant here.

Isabel Leonard, one of the world’s leading mezzo sopranos, was a believably punk, androgynous Cherubino. She delivered both of her signature arias with a mixture of humor and pathos, with solid technique. Leonard is also quite fit. She pumped through a half dozen push-ups at one point, and she climbed about fifteen feet to reach an open window in the Countess’s bedroom, out of which she jumped straight down to an unseen garden.

These four were clearly having fun, and it was a pleasure to watch them interact.

Amanda Majeski as the Countess Almaviva matched Susannah in height and regal bearing. They could have been sisters. But her portrayal presented some problems. She wore a perpetual frown as she fretted about the boorish behavior of her husband. This makes sense, but she projected such frigidity that she was not as sympathetic a character as she should be. The spunky and funny Rosina of the Barber, her character in the Rossini opera, was long gone.

Majeski’s singing was also not quite up to the level set by the others. Her first aria, Porgi Amor, was tentative, lacking volume. Her voice did not have much cream in it. She settled more comfortably into Dove Sono and delivered a more assured performance, but not one that touched the audience. Her voice at this stage is a bit small of a house this large. Majeski is the least experienced of the five leads, so this must be considered. She will undoubtedly grow into this great role.

The cast of supporting players was especially strong. Susanne Mentzer was a younger Marcellina than normal, not really old enough to have been Figaro’s mother — a surprise that surfaces in the third act. Her rivalry with Susanna produced sparks and a spirited duet in Act One.

The veteran John Del Carlo as Bartolo sounded congested in his Act One aria in which he swears revenge on Figaro for how he was outfoxed in the Rossini opera, and he struggled with the top notes. But his voice cleared later and he became a funny, barrel-chested contributor in the ensembles.

Greg Fedderly exhibited an uncommonly clear and forceful tenor as Basilio, the scheming singing teacher. Philip Cokorinos, in strong voice, was not the usual drunken gardener staggering around the stage, which was a relief. Ying Fang made a very promising debut as Barbarina, who eventually becomes Cherubino’s love match.

In Eyre’s updating of the action from 18th century Seville to the 1930s, he bled all the politics out of the opera. Figaro can and should be seen as the rumblings of the peasantry against the aristocracy and its privileges. In 1930s Seville, that doesn’t work. As a result, Eyre’s Figaro was only a comedy about sexual couplings and uncouplings.

However, the 1930s setting did allow costume designer Rob Howell to create some smashing outfits. Majeski wore two gowns — one an eye-catching black and white number. (Alert the Met bookkeepers: She wore it for just a few minutes.) The other was a memorable magenta and black beauty. This one was crucial to sorting out the complexities of the last act, in which Susanna and the Countess swap dresses and identities to fool the Count. Because both Majeski and Petersen are tall, the switcheroo was believable, as was the Count’s confusion. Eyre, for one of the few times I can remember, managed to stage this scene coherently.

Howell also provided a spiffy double-breasted blue jacket and white pants outfit for the Count, plus a riding outfit of jodhpurs and boots. Cherubino sported a white suit and vest with a Panama hat plus a black tuxedo.

While the gold cylinders dominating the stage quickly grew tiresome, the two in the center rotated to provide quick scene changes. At one point they created the illusion of long hallways in the Almaviva mansion, allowing the Count to chase after Cherubino in convincing fashion.

The set also worked well for the last act set in a pine forest. Here, a single large pine tree grew through the center of one of the cylinders. A second-level tree house was placed above the stage in the branches. On this platform Cherubino and Barbarina looked down on the action below, wide-eyed. It was a nice touch.

James Levine remains a peerless Mozart conductor, and the Met Orchestra played with finesse. He made liberal use of the tympani. The grand final 20 minutes of the Act Two ensemble finale traversed the same aural landscape as the Jupiter Symphony. Levine was greeted with adoration by the audience, acknowledging the applause from his specially made wheelchair.

This Figaro returns on December 4 for another long run with a new conductor (Edo de Waart) and a new cast. Perhaps they can capture the magic of this cast and conductor, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

David Rubin
CNY Café Momus

This review first appeared at CNY Café Momus. It is reprinted with the permission of the author.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):