A Fine Figaro at the Met Opera with Levine as the Standout

I have such strong feelings for this favorite of all my operas that I rarely come away completely satisfied. In fact, I have a kind of “special relationship” with Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. It is, imho, just about perfect.

Based on a brilliant play by Beaumarchais, tuned up with a hilarious libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte and, need I add, set to a consummate score by WAM, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself, it starts out with 100% of all the basics needed to produce the ultimate opera. But then, there are the cast, the conductor and the orchestra. Usually, one of these elements is missing.

marriage-of-figaro-met_wqxr(wqxr.org) When James Levine announced his return to the podium, his many fans, including us, rushed to purchase tickets to the operas he would be conducting, among them Figaro in a new production by Richard Eyre. Let us leave aside for the moment the fact that they threw away a perfectly lovely production for a totally innocuous but meaningless new version, charging extra for the privilege.

figaro(latinpost.com) Many of us on line grumbled. The production, however, didn’t actually interfere with our enjoyment–and that is the first criterion–unlike some others I could name, like the new Ring with its monstrous set of creaky piano keys that defy any reasonable staging. The costs of that outrage could have paid for singer benefits for many a year. Again, it replaced perfectly good productions. But I digress.

In this case, the fact that it was supposed to be in 1930s Spain didn’t actually matter unless you wondered what the droit du seigneur meant during Franco’s years. The set, yet another turntable, seemed to be made of iron bars, with unused staircases that no sane singer would want to go up or down.

figaro staircase(nytimes.com) But how was the music? With Levine in the pit, the tempos were near perfect and the orchestra that he created played magnificently. My son gave it the ultimate accolade–“he sounds just like the Karl Bohm recording.” I thought the Susanna, played by Marlis Petersen, didn’t have the lyric voice that I love in the ensembles but Ildar Abdrazakov’s Figaro, Isobel Leonard’s Cherubino, Peter Mattei’s Count Almaviva and Amanda Majeski’s countess were all very good.

figaro met opera(metopera.org) So why did I have this nagging unsatisfied feeling? well, when you know every note, you are waiting for the chill down your back that comes when every role is perfectly covered, and the orchestra and conductor are the best and everything coalesces. Perhaps there just weren’t enough rehearsals left in the somewhat truncated weeks leading to the season to sustain that elevated level. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. It’s very good indeed and you should. Just call me cranky.

In Andrew Porter’s insightful notes from the program, he says that “Figaro is about love…yet the themes about social injustice and sexual tension are intertwined…” What more could anyone want in an evening?


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