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The Met’s New Figaro

New York
The Metropolitan Opera
09/22/2014 -  & December 4, 8,* 12, 15, 20, 2014
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492
Erwin Schrott (Figaro), Danielle de Niese (Susanna), John Del Carlo (Doctor Bartolo), Susanne Mentzer (Marcellina), Serene Malfi (Cherubino), Mariusz Kwiecen (Count Almaviva), Rachel Willis-Sorenson (Countess Almaviva), Philip Cokorinos (Antonio), Ashley Emerson (Barbarina), Scott Scully (Don Curzio)
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Edo de Waart (conductor)
Sir Richard Eyre (production), Rob Howell (sets and costumes), Paul Constable (lights), Sara Erde (choreographer)

D. de Niese & M. Kwiecen (© Ken Howard)

Sir Richard Eyre's new production of this Mozart classic opened the Met's season this year, replacing the faint effort of Jonathan Miller, which had endured since 1998. Eyre has had a successful career of producing crowd pleasing favorites, and this Figaro was no exception. Rob Howell's sets and costumes update the action to a kind of decadent 1930s - the eve of a violent era that easily parallels the opera (and play's) original pre-French Revolution Old Regime setting, which also teetered on the edge of doom. Here the clever servants sport recent fashions while Count and Countess Almaviva end the day in the elegant formal wear and dressing gowns of a Fred Astaire movie. Hints of modernity and of the changing world the characters inhabit intrude on the action. Count Almaviva gets ready for what he thinks is his garden rendezvous with Susanna by snorting a bump of cocaine. Figaro, also taken in by the ruse, jealously stalks him with a camera equipped with one of those massive old style flashes. Throughout, the art deco stylings are deployed to their full usefulness to suggest abrupt social change to this unbalanced world.

While the atmospheric effects work well, the overall staging is more problematic. The set makes heavy use of the Met's rotating stage to situate most of the action within and around a cylinder that occupies only about one-third of the space. This does allow for fast scene changes and amusing visual effects as the evening goes by, but too often - indeed for most of the first three acts - it has the unfortunate consequence of confining the action within its narrow sliver. The remainder of the stage is either underutilized or lost altogether.

Opening night Met productions are a vocal feast. How pleasant that this second cast largely equaled the original in stature. Erwin Schrott's Figaro is internationally famous and it is easy to see and hear why - he is by turns naive and cunning, outraged and amused. The technique is solid in delivering the part's challenging arias as well as in carrying on its extensive recitative. The characterization could be more original, but here the direction could be at fault - much of the production's comedic antics will be familiar and even rather predictable to those who frequently see the work. At times, it seemed forced. Another leading baritone, the talented Mariusz Kwiecen, commanded the role of the Count with an equally impressive voice. His drama was likewise constrained, but he had some excellent physical comedy in his seduction scenes. It was terribly amusing to see him appear during the overture to pantomime the after glow of his conquest of Ashley Emerson's pert Barbarina, who scurries from his presence once he has had his way with her. Danielle de Niese may have too light a voice to be an ideal Susanna, but she captured hearts. Rachel Willis-Sorenson, who debuts as the Countess this season, took few chances and came off as rather bland. John Del Carlo's Bartolo and Suzanne Mentzer's Marcellina proved the wisdom of giving these smaller but still very important roles to experienced repertoire singers.

Edo de Waart led a balanced reading of the score.

Paul du Quenoy



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