Friday, November 9, 2012

Per sistema infedeli, per genio capricciosi: Le Nozze di Figaro

It turns out that a sublime "Contessa, perdono" covers a multitude of sins. But the slipshod slapstick dominating this revival of Le Nozze at the Met has much to atone for. Politics were all but absent from the stage, and subtlety was in sadly short supply. Scarcely an opportunity for broad comedy or bawdy flirtation was passed over; while the first was merely tiresome, the latter, without a clear dramatic function, threatened to be merely confusing. Although the events of the "folle giornata" verged dangerously close to the episodic, the evening did have its strengths. David Robertson led a fleet, attentive account of the score, and the orchestra contributed much-desired emotional tension and nuance to the performance. Some issues of stage-pit synchronization were outweighed, in my view, by this considerable gain. The performances of the women were stronger than I had feared (cf. Zerbinetta's earlier report) but the more convincing performances belonged to the men, with Gerald Finley's Count a standout. The final scene brought me, if temporarily, from a somewhat detached and slightly disgruntled audience member to a helplessly weeping, delighted participant in Mozart and Da Ponte's glorious celebration of forgiveness. The bizarre lights on the tilting facade of the palace (originally intended to be fireworks with undertones of French Revolution?) distracted me again, but there was that moment, and I cherish it.

Many of the evening's problems could have been converted into points of interest by coherent direction.
Is Cherubino's passionate tabletop embrace with Susanna indicative of a long-standing flirtation? Has the Count been routinely sleeping with the women of the estate despite his law, or are the hints of sexual scandal a form of blackmail used to negotiate for--I don't know--more favorable rents? dowries? Since it appears that mutual desire is perhaps the one functioning component of the Almavivas' marriage, why is the Countess flirting with Susanna, all but propositioning Cherubino, and arousing herself on her husband's chair? I could imagine these questions functioning productively, if any of them were developed. The question of why the Countess and Susanna behave like a Hollywood stereotype of teenage girls at a sleepover in their scenes together is another matter. Without a cohesive vision of how the characters were bound together, nuances were flattened and resonances lost. But several of the performances in this Figaro deserved better than a Figaro so sadly diminished. As Bartolo and Marcellina, Maurizio Muraro and Margaret Lattimore had unusually plausible chemistry. Muraro sang solidly and with fine diction; Lattimore's rich-toned and expressive singing was a luxury in the role of the erstwhile housekeeper, and I regretted that her aria was cut.  Christine Schäfer's tremulously ardent Cherubino was characterized with unusual sensitivity. If her sound seemed somewhat thin at times, her singing was nonetheless intelligent and passionate (and I believe she was recovering from a cold.)

Maija Kovalevska, despite singing with bright and sweet sound, made an oddly characterized Countess. Her mannerisms had me constantly expecting that she would transition into "Ma se mi toccano dov'è il mio debole, sarò una vipera, sarò." Her optimism bordered on the pert; she seemed almost to find the tense deceptions of the plot a delightfully naughty joke, rather than a desperate attempt to return to the life she desires with the man she (still) loves. Mojca Erdmann's portrayal of Susanna I found less bewildering, but similarly frustrating. I felt that hers was a rather one-dimensional Susanna, self-admiring and clever, but not wise. Vocally she was on surer footing, but I was left wanting to know what this Susanna felt about it all, and why. As her Figaro, Ildar Abdrazakov contributed solid and charismatic singing. Both the dark timbre of his voice and his imposing stage presence made him an unusually serious Figaro. The former barber's playfulness was little in evidence, but Abdrazakov was consistently interesting, and he shone in Figaro's more earnest moments, in a fine "Se vuol ballare" and a fierce "Aprite un po' quegl'occhi." His "Tutto è tranquillo e placido," where he mournfully apostrophizes himself as the modern Vulcan, was of great poignancy and beauty.

Gerald Finley's Count Almaviva was a portrayal of great vocal and dramatic richness. Finley sang not only with unfailing beauty, but intelligent phrasing and use of text, suggesting a count not so much thirsty for augmented power as frustrated at his lack of it. His petty triumphs were snatched at and disproportionately exulted in. Alongside his growing bafflement, however, was visible a fragile, wavering desire for things to be different, for peace to be restored to his household. His manners with the members of his household (when they were not directly thwarting him) were surprisingly easy; hardly an ancien regime tyrant, this. In the Act II finale he was both fierce and uncomprehending; his supplications for Susanna's assistance were concerned rather than exasperated. "Hai gia vinta la causa" became an unexpectedly moving moment, as the Count seeks to grapple with events just beyond his control. In his reflection on the character of the Countess--"Ah, che un dubbio l'offende!"--appeared genuine love. But he blunders on, in his pride, until his pride is forcibly broken. And, at last, he kneels--it is the least calculated action we have seen from him--and asks forgiveness. "Contessa, perdono" was full of not only penitence but love, each syllable rich with self-reproach and yearning, the last note held pianissimo. Robertson held the orchestra silent during that long moment when the world holds its breath waiting for the Countess' response. And the Count seemed to know and acknowledge its value. The day may have been frustratingly full of caprice and madness, but its ending, at least, was exquisite.


  1. Kavalevska was sick tonight. They made an announcement. Ugh. Perky. And those expressions during Porgi and Dove??!! Pathos, huh? Anyway, the FPDL is correct. The orchestra very lively (a fabulous contrast to the leaden pace and weight in Hamburg recently - though Ailyn Perez an excellent Countess). Gerald Finley very good indeed.

  2. Sounds like a strange evening. I like all of the singers you mention, yet it sounds as though they weren't given the proper direction to make the show worthwhile, and that's too bad. At least Finley gave the Count a good nuance.

  3. @marcillac Sigh. Glad to hear you enjoyed the compensatory factors of the evening, at least.

    @Christie It really was bizarrely incoherent. My experience of Kovalevska has been mixed, but the oddness of this portrayal I still find inexplicable. I'm also still easily reduced to swooning by reflections on Finley's Count, though. So there's that.


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