Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

A Donizetti world premiere: Opera Rara at the Royal Opera House

There may be sixty or so operas by Donizetti to choose from, but if you’ve put together the remnants of another one, why not give everyone a chance to hear it? And so, Opera Rara brought L’Ange de Nisida to the concert stage last night, 180 years after it was composed for the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris, conductor Sir Mark Elder leading a team of bel canto soloists and the Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a committed and at times stirring performance.

A stellar Ariadne auf Naxos at Investec Opera Holland Park

Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos is a strange operatic beast. Originally a Molière-Hofmannsthal-Strauss hybrid, the 1916 version presented in Vienna ditched Le bourgeois gentilhomme, which had preceded an operatic telling of the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus, and replaced it with a Prologue in which buffa met seria as competing factions prepared to present an entertainment for ‘the richest man in Vienna’. He’s a man who has ordered two entertainments, to follow an epicurean feast, and he wants these dramatic digestifs served simultaneously.

PROM 5: Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande

Stefan Herheim’s production of Debussy’s magnificent 1902 opera for Glyndebourne has not been universally acclaimed. The Royal Albert Hall brought with it, in this semi-staged production, a different set of problems - and even imitated some of the production’s original ones, notably the vast shadow of the organ which somewhat replicates Glyndebourne’s 1920’s Organ Room, and by a huge stretch of the imagination the forest in which so much of the opera’s action is set.

Thought-Provoking Concert in Honor of Bastille Day

Sopranos Elise Brancheau and Shannon Jones, along with pianists Martin Néron and Keith Chambers, presented a thrilling evening of French-themed music in an evening entitled: “Salut à la France,” at the South Oxford Space in Brooklyn this past Saturday, July 14th.

Dido in Deptford: Blackheath Halls Community Opera

Polly Graham’s vision of Dido and Aeneas is earthy, vigorous and gritty. The artistic director of Longborough Festival Opera has overseen a production which brings together professional soloists, students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and a cast of more than 80 south-east London adults and children for this, the 12th, annual Blackheath Halls Community Opera.

Summer madness and madcap high jinxs from the Jette Parker Young Artists

The operatic extracts which comprised this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance seemed to be joined by a connecting thread - madness: whether that was the mischievousness of Zerbinetta’s comedy troupe, the insanity of Tom Rakewell, the metaphysical distress of Hamlet, or the mayhem prompted by Isabella’s arrival at Mustafà’s Ottoman palace, the ‘insanity’ was equally compelling.

Mefistofele at Orange’s Chorégies

This is the one where a very personable devil tells God that mankind is so far gone it isn’t worth his time to bother corrupting it further.

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

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):