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Friday, December 5, 2014

Opera Review: Tango in the Night

The second cast lights up the Met's new Figaro.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Suzanne Mentzer (left) and John Del Carlo (right) are the only cast members remaining
as the Met revives its new Le Nozze di Figaro this month.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2014 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera's new Richard Eyre production of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro (which opened the 2014 season in September) marched back onto the boards last night with an its second cast, featuring two new singers in crucial parts and bass Erwin Schrott in the title role. This run also marks the return of Dutch conductor Edo de Waart, and his steady hand in the pit propelled the show forward with no loss of momentum: a necessity in this most kinetic of operatic comedies.

This troupe brought fresh energy to Mozart's high-spirited comedy, giving a Figaro that  finally filled the cage-like chambers of this production's massive rotating set. The merriment was led by Mr. Schrott. Returning to the title role for the first time in this new production, Mr. Schrott was a suave, sly Figaro, with his voice sounding warm and a little dry against the orchestra accompaniment. He shared rapport and comic timing with his Susanna, played by Daniele de Niese, and even honored his South American heritage with a little tango dancing in the wedding scene.

Ms. de Niese does not have the entire toolbox for this marathon part, but she rose above the usual pert stereotype to deliver a charismatic performance. Her sense of comic timing and awareness of the other singers proved crucial to the Act II "Venite, inginocchiatevi", but she sounded a little strained in the famous Act III "Sull'aria" duet. She recovered to deliver a warm and melting "Deh vieni, non tardar" in the last act, putting genuine heat into this gorgeous little ballad.

As the Count, Mariusz Kwiecien cut a better "Don Juan" figure here than he did in that other Mozart-Da Ponte comedy. His Count was alternatingly philandering and stentorian, a sleazy master whose obvious sexual harassment of his staff was protected by the character's thin and barbaric sense of droit de signeur. This was an oaf in sheep's clothing, powered by a dark register and a callow sense of self-worth. That said, his Act III aria "Vedro mentr'io sospiro" was terrific, delivered with vocal heft and snap.

The best moment of Mr. Kwiecien's performance (and of the entire evening) was the Count's confrontation with his wife in Act II. In this production, his determination to batter down the door to his wife's dressing-room nearly turns into deadly domestic violence, thanks to the Count's decision to bring a woodsman's ax to the proceedings. At its climax, Ms. de Niese stepped out of the Countess' dressing-room and gently relieved his Lordship of the deadly weapon.

In her Met debut, soprano Rachel Willis-Sorensen was a heart-warming and soulful presence as the Countess, bringing a plush tone and needed gravitas to the madcap action of this show. From her first entry (the exquisite "Porgi, amor", sung with riveting presence) she made the Count's long-suffering wife a tragic figure, whose path from neglect to redemption formed the heart of this performance. This, and her "Dove sono" with its tricky upper register made for impressive stuff from a singer to watch.

The second debut of the night was mezzo Serena Malfi, an engaging and charmingly androgynous Cherubino. Indeed, "Non si pu, cosa son, cosa faccio" and "Voi chi sapete" were early vocal highlights, sung as well as acted. Ms. Malfi also made a handsome figure in the Act III wedding scene, playing with gender roles in a dapper tuxedo. In the finale, she was well-paired with Ashley Emerson, a petite and youthful Barbarina. The ensemble was rounded out by John Del Carlo and Suzanne Mentzer as Bartolo and Marcellina, reprising their excellent performances from earlier this season.

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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.