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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Opera Broadcast Review: A Wedding Under Protest

The Met opens with a new Le Nozze di Figaro.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Times Square broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera's
Le Nozze di Figaro with Ildar Abdrazakov and Marliss Peterson.
 Photo by the author © 2014 Paul J. Pelkonen
Opening night at the Metropolitan Opera is a glitzy, glamorous occasion, with seats in the cavernous auditorium jacked to three times their normal price, an audience of minor celebrities strolling down the red carpet and this year, protestors outside Lincoln Center. Last year, they were against Valery Gergiev, this year they decried the company's planned October  production of the John Adams opera The Death of Klinghoffer.

Two miles down Broadway, the Met offered its ninth outside broadcast in Times Square. Due to street-work, the audience for this show was forced to move south, to the lower half of Times Square. With the audience bathed in the tri-color glow of the enormous light-up American flag on the side of the U.S. Armed Forces Recruiting Center and the watchful camera eyes of the NYPD overhead, this was an opera premiere in 21st century America, festive, patriotic and under close surveillance.

The new production by Sir Richard Eyre sets the action of Le Nozze di Figaro on the company's famous turntable stage, moving from room to room of the Count Almaviva's house in a way that recalled the classic '80s staging of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. This was a uniformly dark show, with the low-lit sets battling for visibility against the Times Square advertising, the madcap action opera squeezed in between a huge ad for Dunkin' Donuts and a wide screen showing highlights from Major League Baseball.

Although the sound playback (through an on-site P.A.) was over-amplified to compete with the clamor of Times Square, it was possible to discern some things about the cast of this new production. Ildar Abdrazakov's Figaro remains constant with his performance two years ago, bluff, hearty and full of comic glee. Peter Mattei, who also opened the Met's 2011 Don Giovanni was even better, a leering, surly presence as Count Almaviva who nonetheless managed a convincing redemption scene at the end of this long evening.

Mezzo Isabel Leonard stole scenes and hearts as the cross-dressing Cherubino. With a short pixie cut and jazz age linen suit, Ms. Leonard was glamorous, ambiguous and sang with succulent tone. Although she was over-mannered in the first act, her natural comic talents took over as the show moved into the hectic second act. The scene in the Countess' chambers, with Cherubino romping on a bed between the Countess and Suzanna was earthy and sexy, even though it seemed to recall the Met's production of Le Comte Ory.

In her Met debut, Amanda Majeski suffered from brittle tone in  "Porgi, amor," but sweetened in the ensembles and eventually drew a sympathetic portrait of Mozart's long-suffering heroine. Marliss Peterson lacked spark as Susanna, seeming more like an ordinary household servant than the dynamo who attracts Figaro's interest. Suzanne Mentzer, a veteran of this opera was a welcome presence in the smaller role of Marcellina.

James Levine conducted a brisk overture, although the maestro's tendency to slow down for the more beautiful moments in the score can prove maddening for a listener who likes Mozart at a more consistent pace. This was noticeable in the Act II finale, when the hurtling momentum of the score was lost briefly so Mr. Levine could indulge his taste for texture. The finale too, was slow and fast, whipsawing between tempos with little consistency. However, this was generally a strong performance and the glittering crowd seemed glad to have him turn in his seat and conduct the pre-opera Star-Spangled Banner.

Mr. Eyre's staging, a late replacement for a rejected Michael Grandage production (the switch might have been made following the negative reviews received for that director's Don Giovanni) echoes his 2009 efforts for the Met: Il Trovatore and Carmen. All three shows feature rotating set, decor favoring  dark woods and swirling vermilion fabrics, and a setting in the Spanish Civil War. Sure it works, but for a new production, wouldn't it be nice to have something...new?
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.