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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Opera Review: The Dons Take Over

The guys dominate Le Nozze di Figaro at the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bedroom comedy: Susanna (Mojca Erdmann) and the Countess (Maija Kovalevska)
scheme with Figaro (Ildar Abdrazakov) in this year's Met revival of Le Nozze di Figaro.
Photo © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.
On Wednesday night at the Metropolitan Opera, Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro was the perfect medicine for a city suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the nor'easter that howled outside, dropping five inches of snow on the city.

Figaro is an ensemble piece, one which is usually dominated by the Countess (Maija Kovalevska) her pert maid Susanna (Mojdca Erdmann) and the cross-dressing page Cherubino (Christine Schaefer.) However on Wednesday night, it was the conflict between Figaro (Ildar Abdrazakov) and the Count (Gerald Finley) that held the audience's attention--a battle of wits and class between two men experienced in another Mozart role: Don Giovanni.

The long string of arias and numbers in the first act seemed disjointed, despite Mr. Abdrazakov's rousing "Se vuol bailare" and "Non piu andrai." Matters improved in the second act, as the marital conflict between Ms. Kovalevska's Countess and Mr. Finley's Don raised the temperature of the performance through a series of tight, involving ensembles. Best of all was the Act II finale, as seven singers gathered in a coherent display of deliberate confusion.

Ms. Kovalevska sang "Porgi, amor" with noble tone, delivering a loose, relaxed Countess who flirted with Cherubino and treated Susanna as a social equal. The singers also blended well, with Ms. Kovalevska's richer, more powerful instrument lending support to her maid. Although some of the ensemble high notes were missing (noticeable in the second act) this was mostly a strong performance that got better as the evening progressed.

Happily, there's more to German soprano Mojca Erdmann than a lithe frame and a soubrette-sized voice. She overcame the latter consistently throughout the evening, creating a fully-rounded portrait of one of the most complex roles in comic opera. Ms. Erdmann delved to the warmth and inner depths of  Susanna in Act III and IV, singing a sweet, sensual Letter Duet with Ms. Kovalevska and a melting "Deh vieni, non tardar" in the opera's closing pages.

The weak link was Ms Schäfer, who seemed ill at ease and miscast as Cherubino. Indeed, it sounded at times (especially in "Non so piu, cosa son, cosa faccio" that the German mezzo was trying to scoop her notes and sing the trouser part like a countertenor would. She struggled to surmount the orchestra, and compensated with comic over-acting in this key part.

Mr. Abdrazakov engaged the audience with his light-footed performance that got positively giddy in Act III, with the revelation of his character's true parentage. The Russian bass has a rich, dark voice that is nimble and pliable in Mozart. Mr. Finley's Count had a swagger in the early acts, but the singer's essential good nature came through in his repentance in the final scene. He was the anchor of the many ensembles that provided the evening's finest musical moments.

The supporting players were a mixed bag. Maurizio Muraro was a sonorous Bartolo, although it seemed as if he had just wandered in from the other Figaro opera. Margaret Lattimore was far better as Marcellina, one of the strongest ladies in the cast and very funny in the Recognition Scene in Act III. Ashley Emerson was a charming Barbarina, in the role that singers sometimes take on the way to greater things.

David Robertson conducted a focused, unfussy show, maintaining close contact with the singers and putting a spring in the orchestra's step. Jonathan Miller's production, with its distressed house and tilting turntable, looks more decayed than ever. (What is it with the Met always setting this opera in a house that's falling apart?) The same might be said for the unfocused stage direction: singers engaged in anachronistic, seemingly improvisational business to give the characters some sort of direction through the crumbling halls.

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