Oh, It’s Already Been Brought’n

oropesa_pertusi_vondung_0353.jpgOpera Review: Le Nozze di Figaro at The Met

(Photo by Marty Sohl)

The Met has finally brought it this opera season. With their current production of Le Nozze di Figaro, they now have a delightfully performed and sophisticatedly designed opera that satisfies on every level, and, at last, positions the Met as the forerunner in the Lincoln Center opera wars.

The production is credited to Jonathan Miller, with gorgeously rendered sets by Peter J. Davidson. A beautiful white-washed monochromatic patina gives each set a rustic airiness that places the opera in the past without falling into period cliche. In a stroke of aesthetic prudence, and wit, the sets (Figaro’s workshop, the Countess’ chamber, the Count’s manor and–after the hydraulic rotating floor spins ninety degrees, the garden behind the manor) are tucked just so into the proceneum, so you can see the external framework that encases them, and the wide plank floor boards end downstage as if the rooms had been torn apart from a larger building. For me, these elements alleviated the tiresome redundancy that “big” opera sets evoke. Furthermore, a gentle tilt to the sets provided an enhanced emotional tension.

Costumes, by James Acheson, were colorful in tones of pastel and their acid counterparts, often appearing as if the characters had jumped out of a Neo Rausch painting.

And the stage direction was perfect, contemporary, and allowed the performers to play up the drama of this opera, which is, in the end, what makes it such a total theatrical experience, and not just another opera with pretty music.

I was a little wary at first, as in the opening, Lisette Oropesa’s Susana came off as too sweet (with hints of American in her Italian), and Erwin Schrott’s suave (and appealingly not-goofy) Figaro was a little scratchy. And when veterans Maurizio Muraro and Ann Murray (as Don Bartolo and Marcellina) came out in perfect voice, they made a case that in opera, age often counts for more than just seniority. But as the first act progressed, so did Susana and Schrott, both of their voices making way into stronger territory.

Hei-Kyung Hong, as the Countess, was perhaps too beautiful, too glowingly gorgeous to believe that the Count had fallen out of love with her. But, in this fanciful world, you could suspend your disbelief just enough. Her voice is sublime and capable of all kinds of magic (like a little ascending run that ends in an open piano during the trio of Act Three), although I found her treatment of “Dove sono” to be a little too hands-on, or overly romantic. My advice here is to keep it sweet and simple: the music will do all the work, you just have to give it voice.

Michael Pertusi, as Count Almaviva was appropriately obtuse and treacherous. And his reconciliation with the Countess was glorious.

As for conductor, Phillipe Jordan, he did a superb job. But it is hard to say how he managed to do it. When you watch him conduct–and for some reason he appeared to be conspicuously visible, as if, perhaps, to give the audience a better view of his youthful attractiveness, they gave him a higher podium on which to stand–it looks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He appears to conduct with the music, rather than lead it, and his gestures are short, stiff, and full of all kinds of things you’re taught not to do in conducting school. And yet, the Met orchestra played together, with zest and buoyancy (with the exception of parts of the final act, where the music slows up, but here could have used a little more urgency), and with a sound that was full of color and cleverness. I hope to hear this young man conduct again soon, perhaps with something the orchestra knows less well.

But the standout performance of the evening easily came from Italian-born soprano, Anke Vondung, in the role of Cherubino, and her Met debut. Her technique is without flaw, her sound robust and glimmering, and she has a stage presence that is effortlessly charming and confident. She literally electrified the every scene with her presence. I hope The Met cultivates her career, which should be vast and meritorious. (Thankfully, we’ll get to hear her in May as Annio in La Clemenza di Tito.)

The second cast (starring Bryn Terfel as Figaro) opens November 10 and runs through December. I hope they can capture the charisma and heartfelt sincerity that this cast generated. And I feel a little sorry for Kate Lindsay, who, after Vondung’s bar-raising performance, will have more to worry about than acting like a man.

BONUS LINK: Read Allan Kozinn’s Times review of the debut performance.

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