Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Le Nozze di Figaro: E schiatti il signor Conte...

Act II: Majeski, Mattei, Abdrazakov, Petersen. Photo (c) Ken Howard/Met Opera
The season having been saved, the Met opened with an engagingly sung, orchestrally luxurious Nozze di Figaro. I don't think I know anyone who loves opera and doesn't love this one, where polish and depth are never at odds. I'd witnessed with pain the disintegration of the previous production, but was worried by a casual invocation of Downton Abbey in promotional materials for this one; the villa of the Almavivas is not Downton; it's Gosford Park. In the event, Richard Eyre's glossy 1930s setting proved essentially traditional in its choreographic and interpretative choices. The direction was, to its credit, sensitive to the music, and the relationships between characters and space were well-expressed. There were even moments in individual performances that made me consider text and melody anew: always especially welcome in this inexhaustibly rich opera. Although I wished the emotional stakes of the production had been higher, it was at least not naive about misogyny or economic exploitation, and there was a nod to interwar Orientalism. More might still have been made of the social tensions brewing in the house and outside it, a stronger structure given for the benefit of subsequent revivals (and audiences.) There is no wireless; there are no newspapers, no magazines anywhere. For all Eyre's talk of the electric atmosphere of the '30s, there was very little evidence of it in the relationships between the characters, or in the production.

James Levine's chemistry with the Met orchestra is always a delight to hear. Their Nozze was characterized by unusually deliberate tempi (sometimes, to my mind, less than successful; sometimes, as in "Non so più," revelatory.) The orchestral reading also had a sense of ceremony that I don't often associate with this opera, where everything is to play for. The orchestral detail was invariably gorgeous, however, with the woodwinds deserving special acclaim for their evocation of atmospheric and emotional background. The harpsichordist was a humorist, providing commentary on the not-infrequent sequences of concealment and conspiracy. Although there were sometimes slight discrepancies between singer and pit tempi in arias (surprising to me, but minor,) the matching of stage movement to orchestral punctuation was unerringly precise. Levine and the orchestral forces, as well as the singers, deserve credit for the nuanced and expressive phrasing of the recitative.


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