Mozart and Da Ponte’s opera Le Nozze di Figaro was telecast in HD today. The opera is utterly unlike any that proceeded it. Its depth of characterization, complexity of ensemble writing, and dramatic propulsion moved opera to a new and higher level of artistic expression. Figaro’s dearth of recitatives allowing one number to flow into another allows the action to flow seamlessly. It’s a marvel. The finale to the second act shows how far shows, both technically and artistically, Mozart was ahead of everyone else. Nothing like it would appear on the lyric stage until the middle of Verdi’s career. Of opera’s greatest achievements this is the oldest in the standard repertoire.

This new production directed by Richard Eyre opened the current season at the Met. Eyre puts the action in Spain of the 1930s, though you’d have to take his word for it as it could be just about anywhere. Why opera seems to be on an orgy to time shifting is a phenomenon lost on me. The set, a rotating concoction of stuff and filigree,  brought back childhood memories of many Erector Set constructions built by a spastic Antoni Gaudí epigone. But they also had the virtue of allowing the action flow to without pause; they seemed a poor match for Mozart’s luminous score.

Figaro is an ensemble opera that requires stirring performances from its five principals. The vocal demands while considerable are not beyond that routinely expected from first class singers at a major opera company. Ildar Abdrazakov as Figaro was much more suited for his part than when I last saw him as Mefistofele in Boito’s opera in San Francisco last fall. The part lies in the middle of his lyric bass and his attractive stage persona is right for Mozart’s upwardly mobile servant.

Figaro’s fiance, Susanna, was played by German soprano Marlis Petersen. She has a pleasant lyric soprano and a compelling stage presence. ‘Deh vieni, non tardar’ was affectingly sung.

Swedish baritone Peter Mattei was the lecherous count. His is a supple baritone which struggled a bit with the part’s only high note, but was otherwise beautifully produced. His acting was as fine as his singing. The count is not a very nice guy and it always comes as a shock when his countess so willingly forgives him at the opera’s conclusion.

The young American soprano Amanda Majesti made her Met debut in this part on opening night in place of the indisposed Marina Poplavskaya. She did well with ‘Porgi, amor’ and ‘Dove sono’ though the former should have had a lusher sound.

Peter Mattei and Amanda Majeski

Peter Mattei and Amanda Majeski

Mezzo Isabel Leonard was perfect as the testosterone crazed teenager Cherubino. Both her acting and singing were right on the mark. The other parts were all very well cast. Particularly noteworthy was the performance of the very young Chinese soprano Ying Fang as Barbarina. Barbarina is about the same age as Cherubino and I suspect they get together, at least for a while.

The success of this opera depends on the players interaction and the leadership of the conductor. Today both were spot on. Director Eyre managed to realize both the humanity and the humor that Mozart’s miraculously combined in this opera. Maestro Levine and his wonderful orchestra were flexible, animated, and forceful according to the demands of the libretto and the score. An added plus, Gary Halvorson’s video direction was unobtrusive.

In summary, this was a fist rate performance of one of opera greatest masterpieces. The audience laughed when appropriate and was swept up in the story. After watching it you could understand why Brahms said, “In my opinion, each number in Figaro is a miracle; it is totally beyond me how anyone could create anything so perfect; nothing like it was ever done again, not even by Beethoven.”



Metropolitan Opera House
October 18, 2014 Matinee

Le Nozze di Figaro

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart-Lorenzo da Ponte

Figaro………………Ildar Abdrazakov
Susanna……………..Marlis Petersen
Count Almaviva……….Peter Mattei
Countess Almaviva…….Amanda Majeski
Cherubino……………Isabel Leonard
Dr. Bartolo………….John Del Carlo
Marcellina…………..Susanne Mentzer
Don Basilio………….Greg Fedderly
Antonio……………..Philip Cokorinos
Barbarina……………Ying Fang
Don Curzio…………..Scott Scully

Robert Morrison: Harpsichord
Kari Jane Docter: Cello

Conductor……………James Levine

Production…………..Richard Eyre
Designer…………….Rob Howell
Lighting Designer…….Paule Constable
Choreographer………..Sara Erde
TV Director………….Gary Halvorson