“The Marriage of Figaro”
The Metropolitan Opera
Metropolitan Opera House, New York, New York
November 27, 2009, 8 p.m.
During Thanksgiving weekend, The Metropolitan Opera staged a rousing revival of Mozart’s great comic opera, “The Marriage of Figaro,” that was characterized by uncanny comic timing and keen acting. It wasn’t without a few weaknesses, however, which became apparent when the musical performance failed to match the acting in energy.
Conductor Fabio Luisi made quite an impression in the opening, eliciting a scintillating overture from the orchestra. His quick pace and sprightly style melded into a subtle and impeccable abandonment that would set the musical standard for what was to come.
Soprano Lisette Oropesa as Susanna captivated the audience with her energetic performance. Her sweet, if slightly shrill, voice was perfect for her role, emphasizing Susanna’s youth and spontaneity. Bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni was hilarious as Figaro, his acting and singing technique indisputable. For instance, near the end of the opera, Pisaroni impressively sustained his warm, brassy sound while helpless on the ground, enduring Oropesa’s physical attacks as a jealous Susanna.
Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard was absolutely entertaining as Cherubino, the page who falls in love with every attractive female in sight. Her caricature of the lusty young man was spot on, from his lively gait to his occasional awkwardness. Count Almaviva was played by baritone Ludovic Tézier, who oozed lasciviousness — one could feel him creep his hand up Susanna’s leg. He tended toward a reserved portrayal, which greatly benefited his role by suggesting an authority figure suppressing his debauch ways for purposes of appearance.
In her Met debut as the Countess, German soprano Annette Dasch embodied the patrician character, her voice having a complex richness to match. Occasionally, however, one could sense self-consciousness taking over what would otherwise have been a very solid performance. She was best in her mid-range, sometimes erring on the sharp side as she leaped to higher notes.
The singing, in the general sense, was certainly skillful, but at times, particularly during the solos, it lacked the sparkle that pervaded the acting. I, for one, simply wanted more lilting in the phrasing at times of playfulness, and more dynamic contrast for greater dramatic effect — in sum, the sense of abandonment Luisi had set as precedent in the overture.
The sets and costumes evoked the rococo ornateness of the 18th century, supporting the elegance of the music in a very satisfying way. Interestingly, the costumes were pristine while the sets had a quality of decay, with one going as far as being a lop-sided building. The contrast was telling, making apparent the darkness that is driving the comic plot, namely “droit de seigneur,” or the feudal lord’s right to take the virginity of his estate’s virgins.
More so, the opera is an example of Mozart at his most political, it being more than merely a story of infidelity, but of servants outwitting their inhumane master. “Figaro” was revolutionary for its time, having debuted amidst the rising heat of the French Revolution. It’s not surprising that the play off of which the opera is based was banned from the Viennese stage, as it challenges the ruling class. Hence, the decaying sets perhaps symbolize the decay of a certain ruling class that the opera itself is suggesting beneath the prettiness of the music.
Overall, the production was a very satisfying rendition of what some consider to be one of the most successful marriages between music and words. Spot-on portrayals and insightful details here and there make it a show worth seeing.