The Metropolitan Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a saucy new production of Mozart’sLe Nozze di Figaro under the direction of Sir Richard Eyre.
He brings an insightful magic to Figaro, revealing that which can lurk beneath love relationships. It’s passionate, sometimes explicit and raw, sometimes merely simmering, sometimes just teasing, and in many ways, as a great Figaro should be, it is deeply moving. Yet it’s also pretty downright funny. Figaro is, after all, an opera buffa.
Eyre gets his actors to behave in very earthy ways while singing absolutely heavenly. Particularly noteworthy in this regard are Marlis Petersen as Susanna and Isabel Leonard as Cherubino.
Petersen’s Susanna runs a whole gamut of emotional states during the opera’s madcap day. Something of a vixen, she really tempts the Count, even allowing him to put his hands on her, but it’s clear that her behavior is part of the lesson plan. One of the longest soprano roles in the repertory, Susanna is on stage a lot longer in Eyre’s staging. Petersen sings beautifully to the very end. Brava!
Isabel Leonard has pulled out the plumb role of Cherubino. Hardly angelic, her Cherubino is a slick pup on a sex jag throughout the tale’s long day. This is funny on stage because of its extreme; thankfully, Eyre doesn’t push Cherubino over the line into the zone of crude and therefore no longer amusing.
Basso Ildar Abdrazakov is handsome and charming as Figaro. He and the Countess are, in many ways, the main characters the least pushed beyond the comfort zone of their roles. This means I could almost imagine Ezio Pinza in Eyre’s conception of Figaro, whereas I can’t imagine Frederica von Stade doing his take on Cherubino. Abdrazakov’s Aprite un po’quegli occhi is wonderful, as he was the whole evening. Bravo!
As the Countess, soprano Amanda Majeski’s voice reminds one of the grand Mozart sopranos of the late 1950s, particularly Maria Stader or Lisa Della Casa. Majeski is stately and controlled in her arias and shines as a critical component of the ensembles. Her Countess begins the sad day alone in bed and she seems truly defeated with Cherubino about to come out of her closet in Act 2, but as the afternoon and evening of the day wear on she achieves a more positive, active space.
Peter Mattei, as always, is a wonderful stage presence in this. His Count is without doubt the master of the house: you’ll see it right at the start during the overture and all through the performance. Incorrigible! His comeuppance in the garden couldn’t come sooner! But Mattei is also quite fun to watch as the incongruities between his desires, expectations and reality become apparent. He too sings marvelously. Bravo!
The comic roles of Doctor Bartolo and Marcellina are well taken by John Del Carlo and Susanne Mentzer, the former doing his grand basso buffo thing, the latter ramping up the inner comedienne in her. Ying Fang was Barbarina.
James Levine, an acclaimed master of Mozart’s music, gives additional muscle to his reading of this incandescent score. The timing between pit and stage in this production is split second; happily the ensemble is well rehearsed.
Richard Eyre claims as his inspiration Jean Renoir’s 1939 film La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game), which was based on Beaumarchais La Folle Journée (Day of Madness (or Folly)), which, as you know, is the source for Da Ponte’s libretto for Le Nozze di Figaro. Like La Règle, Eyre places the action in the early 1930s. Rob Howell’s sets evoke Moorish designs in a tall, rich Spanish manor. Rooms flow smoothly across the stage front by means of a large turntable such that characters can scamper about through halls and doorways to various interconnected rooms. Thus, through the overture, Susanna can work in one room, show Figaro off her wedding veil in another, as the Count emerges from yet another room to clean up from his night in the sack with one of the help. It is tremendously clever and works quite well.
This Figaro is performed with only one intermission between (as written) Act 2 and Act 3.
Photo: Ken Howard
Performance date: October 2, 2014
Make it special. JRS