[Met Performance] CID:282720
Le Nozze di Figaro {283} Metropolitan Opera House: 12/4/1985.


Metropolitan Opera House
December 4, 1985


Figaro..................Ruggero Raimondi
Susanna.................Kathleen Battle
Count Almaviva..........Thomas Allen
Countess Almaviva.......Carol Vaness
Cherubino...............Frederica von Stade
Dr. Bartolo.............Artur Korn
Marcellina..............Jocelyne Taillon
Don Basilio.............Michel SÚnÚchal
Antonio.................James Courtney
Barbarina...............Dawn Upshaw
Don Curzio..............Anthony Laciura

Conductor...............James Levine

Review of Martin Mayer in Opera (UK)

The Metropolitan Opera's new production of Le Nozze di Figaro, which I saw on December 4, is a Jekyll and Hyde affair. Dr Jekyll is the loving musical performance under James Levine, almost unbearably beautiful in the third-act sextet, the Letter duet and "Contessa perdona," sometimes almost too gentle ("Se vuol ballare" without the harsh accents the shocked Figaro should intend). Mr. Hyde is the generally nasty and ill-considered production by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, with the Countess having the hots for Cherubino; the Count remaining in the servants' room (lounging on the bed, Figaro is only measuring in Da Ponte's version, but Ponnelle supplies "ab initeo" for no reason whatever) to relish Figaro's humiliation or Cherubino in "Non pi˙ andrai"; and outside, whenever the doors open, a miscellaneous rag-bag of peasants making revolution like in" Lulu."

All this happens in Ponnelle's patented black-and white, which is beginning to set the teeth on edge (Barbarina and the peasant girls dress as housemaids; Figaro, who spends the first act in gardener's clothes, is dressed like Darth Vader thereafter). This abandonment of stage colour is defensible in the "opare seria," which are sort of black and-white anyway, but the human colour of Figaro looks worse than incongruous in Ponnelle's frozen mortuary. Moreover, Ponnelle has set the opera (up to the fourth act) on a shrunken stage, a narrow and deep box implanted in a Baroque wall that fills most of the stage. From at least half the seats of the house, the Countess is invisible when she sings "Porgi amor." Don't ask why: there is no answer.

My tolerance for "Figaro a la" Ponnelle has probably been reduced by previous exposure, for this is pretty much what the director designer did to Da Ponte and Mozart in Washington in 1984, except that all the faults have been exaggerated (probably because Ponnelle was actually present in New York, while he let his assistant, do the work in Washington; thus Benita Valente, unlike Carol Vaness, was able to fight off the director's instruction that she roll on the ground with Cherubino). The irritation is greater because the materials were here for a superb dramatic as well as musical performance.

Frederica von Stade is the most convincing Cherubino I have ever seen, and I go back to Novotna and Stevens and Jurinac; she sang both "Non so pi˙" and "Voi che sapete" exquisitely. (To give the devil his due, "Vol che sapete" acquired a sexual charge it does not usually contain because Vaness's Countess was clearly getting goose pimples from it.) Vaness, I thought, made the leap to authentic stardom at the Met in this performance, though friends who saw her Fiordiligi last year said that was, if possible, even better. She took that lovely run up the scale in the Count-Countess-Susanna trio in the second act, which in my recollection has always been sung at the Met by the Susanna. Kathleen Battle (Susanna) acted less effusively than usual, and the voice was terribly pretty though once again marginal in size, especially from inside Ponnelle's boxes. Dawn Upshaw's Barbarina encouraged those who find her the most promising of this year's crop in the Met's artistic development programme.

The men were not quite in the same league. Ruggero Raimondi's Figaro was just a little stiff, though beautifully sung (He could not carry off "Aprite un po" in Ponnelle's dreary context of turning on the house lights so the Figaro can pick out the recipients of his message). Thomas Allen was a light-voiced Count, which made for problems in his third-act aria, and did some harm in the scene with the Countess in the second act, in which Levine (I think unwisely) restored every note of the recitative (he also, again I think unwisely, took the long-form version of the Cherubino-Susanna duet). Arthur Korn was a rather dull Bartolo, given a most confusing and wrong-headed bit of business, trampling Marcellina's contract underfoot as a gesture of-rage? revolutionary ardour? incompetence? - in his first-act aria. James Courtney was a splendid Antonio, and one owes the casting department thanks for recruiting Michel SÚnechal to sing Don Basilio: few artists can dance so precisely on the line of becoming outrageous without once giving offence.

For the orchestra and Levine, no praise could be too high. The precision of the overture, the eloquence of accompaniment, the perfect blending of the instrumental groups - for all these we were humbly grateful. Levine I think also deserves credit for pacing the work in such a way that the fourth act, often a little long at the end of a long, long opera, was absorbing throughout. But Levine wanted to be artistic director of the house, not just musical director, so he has to bear at least some of the fardels of M. Ponnelle.

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