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2016 Metropolitan Opera: 'Le Nozze di Figaro' Review - Great Singing, Acting & Music All Around

First Posted: Mar 11, 2016 12:10 PM EST

Photo : Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera

"Le Nozze di Figaro" is undoubtedly one of the great masterpieces of the opera world. Not only is it filled with some of the greatest music ever written, but the work is awash with complex characters that allow for an ever-fascinating experience for audiences.

The Metropolitan Opera is currently showcasing its latest iteration of the work in a magnificent production by Richard Eyre with a balanced cast of terrific talent.

Luca Pisaroni is well known for his portrayal as Figaro, but he seems to have more to say as the Count. The main antagonist of the work is often seen as a conniving villain who simply gets thwarted at every step of the way. But in Pisaroni's hands, he is an arrogant and immature adult who suddenly sees his power crumbling and resorts to acting like the child that he is. This was particularly apparent during his delayed reaction to discovering Cherubino and his subsequent lashing out on the kid. During the confrontation with the Countess in the second act, Pisaroni's Count was rather violent in his behavior, his lack of composure calling his leadership qualities into question. It all adds up to a tragicomic take on the character, a man who has all the cards but has no idea how to actually play the game.

Vocally, Pisaroni was at his very best, his voice showing off its variety throughout. He was gentle and polished in his phrasing as he sought to seduce Susanna. He could spin a yearning legato as he pleaded with the Countess to forgive him in Act 2. In fact, his delivery of "O Contessa perdona," the most sublime moment of the entire opera, was memorable for Pisaroni's ability to expand the phrase and the seemingly endless dimuendo he delivered on the final fermata, keeping the audience fully invested in the moment emotionally. His fury was on hand during the famed aria at the top of Act 3, the heft in his voice in full display with passionate accents on consonants throughout. There was also a tremendous amount of innuendo in Pisaroni's singing, whether it was the excited accents during his Act 3 duet with Susanna or the ever memorable "Mi pizzica, mi stuzzica" where Pisaroni toyed with the consonants, adding a carnivorous edge to them. It was a nuanced performance that also had a rather clear arc that is easy to overlook in this complex character.

Argentine-American singer Isabel Leonard has dominated the role of Cherubino in recent seasons and in this latest run, she has proven that she still has a lot to show in the role. The arc of the character in this year's showcase has been far more nuanced with the shy child's growing confidence coming with shades of cockiness from the forefront. During her "Non son piu cosa son, cosa faccio," the choice of a propulsive tempo added to the sense of agitation in the character. As the aria unfolded near the end, it constantly slowed, emphasizing Cherubino's calm yet rather saddened character. Leonard's voice diminished in strength hinting at a Cherubino slowly despairing. But in one quick switch, she looked up at the audience, her face suggesting something rather provocative in the text "parlo d'amor con me (I speak of love to myself)." The innocence of the child was completely washed away in that moment and the final iteration of the ending text had a triumphant ring that wound was witty and charming in the context. During the other famed number, "Voi che sapete," the character's development was given its full rounding in the course of a few minutes. In this section, Cherubino sings to the Countess of love. Leonard played off the fact that Cherubino is singing by having him perform in a rigid posture that expressed uncertainty. The voice was direct and potent, but not as nuanced as the delicate phrasing that came during the repetition of the theme. Here the phrases danced about with a mix of excitement and seduction and Leonard's entire physicality shifted to express these same ideas. The rigid and awkward hand gestures were gone as Cherubino inched ever closer to the Countess like a man ready to win her over. The sound went from quiet and subtle to passionate and voluminous.

In other moments, Leonard enjoyed toying with the fact that she was a woman playing a man that was dressed up as a woman, her walk draw effusive laughter from the audience. In one subtle by equally endearing moment, her Cherubino started to christen himself before jumping out a window, but then realized it was a literal and figurative waste of time.

As Susanna, soprano Anita Hartig delivered an entertaining portrayal of the true heroine of the work. Susanna simply outsmarts everyone in the opera and Hartig's Susanna never ceased to impress in that regard. But while many Susanna's tend to be sly and controlled, this one was not afraid of letting her emotions get the best of her when necessary. With Figaro, she knew that tough love was the name of the game, never hesitating to beat her man when it was called for. And these were not petty little slaps, but rather violent strokes that revealed a feisty viciousness. It was a nice contrast to Hartig's otherwise delicate interpretation of the character. Susanna, for all of her innocence, really could be a dangerous character if you cross her. This was also apparent during the argument with Marcellina early on. During that confrontation, the two women seek out a variety of insults with Susanna pointing toward Marcellina's advance age as the winner. At one point near the end of the battle, Hartig got as close as possible to Susanne Mentzer as possible and whispering the word in a dry tone that was rather conniving it's in effect. During her seduction of the Count at the start of act three, she had no qualms about flaunting her legs, all the while sweetening the timbre of her voice to make herself seem more vulnerable. Hartig's voice was undeniably at its most seductive during the Act 4 aria in which Susanna sings about her approaching lover ("Deh vieni no tardar"). She sang sotto voce throughout the early sections, pulling the listener in with rapturous sound and exquisite phrasing. The cadenza at the end of the aria was delivered with a sublime sliver of sound, expressing Susanna's ecstasy at the thought of finally consuming her love, charging the moment with sexual tension.

As Figaro, Mikhail Petrenko delivered a far more relaxed performance as Figaro, almost as if this iteration came right out of Rossini's opera. Nothing seemed to phase this Figaro, as he threw off accusations from the Count, attacks from his beloved and all manner of conflicts. He took a bed sheet and pretended to bullfight during his "Si vuol ballare," while trumpeting his voice with virile enthusiasm. He danced about as the Count put him to the sword (not literally) during the confrontation in Act 2 and at the end of Act 3. Of course that made his wrongful belief of Susanna's infidelity that much more potent, the soft spot finally revealed. During the famed Act 4 aria, "Aprite un po'quegli occhi," he darkened his voice and added a snarl to the consonants, the anger and bitterness coming through passionately.

As the Countess, Rachel Willis-Sorensen was particularly vulnerable, her singing in the opening aria "Porgi amor," a thread-like sound that drew listeners in with its beauty. In her second aria "Dove Sono," the effect was even more spell-binding with the opening section sung with passionate and painful expression. After a brief pause before the recapitulation, Willis-Sorensen took liberties with the tempi throughout, really driving home the late Nikolaus Harnoncourt's assertion that Mozart was "most romantic of all composers." The elastic tempi gave the lament a more mournful feel, as if the Countess were clinging to those lost memories with every breath and phrase. The voice eventually descended into a gloriously quiet sound before her ensuing outburst in the aria's final coda brought home a sense of urgency and renewed vigor.

Ashley Emerson was a spunky Barbarina while Mentzer proved stately and flirtatious as the old Marcellina. Maurizio Muraro was a stern Bartolo, even in the moments where he gives in to marry Marcelina while Robert McPherson delivered some brightness as the scheming Don Basilio.

Fabio Luisi was at his polished best, Mozart's tempi brisk, but malleable, giving the piece a constant sense of discovery. The textures of the winds were brought to the forefront, giving the entire sound of the opera a more magical feel. This was most apparent in the final act that takes place in the garden, the first time the opera opens up and takes the characters outside of the castle.

There are still a number of performances remaining for this year's "Nozze di Figaro." Mozart's masterpiece has transcended centuries at this point and this performance, delivered by a top-notch cast in an detailed production, is one that will make viewers fall in love with opera.

This review is for the performance on March 3, 2016. 

Rachel Willis-Sorenson and Luca Pisaroni have each put together successfully contrasting portrayals of the Count and Countess.
(Photo : Ken Howard / Metropolitan) Rachel Willis-Sorenson and Luca Pisaroni have each put together successfully contrasting portrayals of the Count and Countess.
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