A Sensible, Musical ‘Figaro’

by Jay Nordlinger (NY Sun)

«Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” has a large cast, but the most important performer of all is the conductor: He’s the one who drives, controls, and shapes the opera. He is the spirit on which the opera depends (if you leave out Mozart and his librettist, Da Ponte). And in the pit of the Metropolitan Opera on Tuesday night was Philippe Jordan.

A young man from Switzerland, the son of the late, eminent conductor Armin Jordan, he has had success all over the world, notably in Salzburg and New York — and notably in Mozart. He acquitted himself well on Tuesday night.

Although the overture wasn’t the best. It was not fully together, and did not shine in its glory. It was rather perfunctory, dutiful — another day, another dollar. And this eternally thrilling piece deserves better.

The orchestra was guilty of sloppiness all evening long, and often this sloppiness was minor, but annoying. For example, the last notes of “Porgi, amor” weren’t together. An air of uncrispness settled on the whole performance.

But Mr. Jordan knows his Mozart, and he led a sensible, musical “Figaro.” He grasps the composer’s contrasts, and his sense of play. Indeed, he seems to share

that sense. His tempos were never extreme, although, in my judgment, the second half of “Dove sono” was harmfully slow.

And he had many laudable moments, did Mr. Jordan. I’ll give you two: The nervous confusion between Susanna and Cherubino — they’re trying to get out of a jam — was just right. This is in Act II. And, later in that act, during a vocal quartet, Mozart takes a memorable look back at the Baroque: at Bach and Handel. This, Mr. Jordan emphasized beautifully. By the way, those who have conducted “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Met include some of the best Mozart conductors in history: Böhm, Krips, Walter … and Mahler.

The Met was reviving its 1998 production by Jonathan Miller, a superb production — Mozartean and Da Pontean. If you see a production like Salzburg’s, which alters and indeed subverts the story, you appreciate Mr. Miller’s all the more.

Portraying Figaro was the Uruguayan bass Erwin Schrott. He is suave and handsome, and so is his singing. His sound has an enviable glow to it. Initially, he had some pitch problems, and, in “Se vuol ballare,” he was far too obvious, blunt: Mozart is subtle but clear. You don’t have to help him out much. Overall, however, Mr. Schrott gave satisfaction.

So did Lisette Oropesa, an American soprano, who portrayed Susanna. She stood in for Isabel Bayrakdarian, who is great with child. Ms. Oropesa has a lovely voice — a voice with some vitality — and she sings naturally. In Act I, her sound did not quite carry, hanging behind. But, in later acts, that sound opened up like a flower. And Ms. Oropesa made an exceptionally smart and savvy Susanna. An experienced and beloved Mozart singer, Hei-Kyung Hong, was the Countess — poised and gracious as always. Some things were more pure than others, but, on balance, the soprano had a good night. Her high notes were wonderfully free. She lost a bit of her sound — sheer volume — at the end of “Dove sono,” but this hardly mattered. The Count was Michele Pertusi, an Italian bass. He was dashing and seigneurial, and, where he needed to be, vocally sensitive. His upper register was a surprise and a delight. Toward the end of the opera, his sound tightened, but he experienced nothing ruinous.

Making her Met debut as Cherubino was Anke Vondung, a German mezzo-soprano. Even when she didn’t sparkle or score, she was competent. Cherubino can be high-testosterone, pantingly male — and Ms. Vondung was more dignified, even subdued. But what she did worked.

A veteran mezzo, Anne Murray, was Marcellina — and she made the absolute most of this role. Ms. Murray sounded and sang great. Also, she acted and looked great. The touch of stringency in her voice was exactly right, for the music and role. It was simply a treat to see this lady on stage.

As Don Bartolo, Maurizio Muraro was rightly and amusingly selfimportant. As Don Basilio, Robin Leggate had a very tough act to follow: This role was recently taken by Michel Sénéchal, a scream, and audience favorite. But Mr. Leggate succeeded on his own terms. And a young soprano, Kathleen Kim, made her Met debut as Barbarina (a traditional and good debut role). She showed the spunk and freshness we want.

A footnote or three, if you will. In its programs, the Met has taken to giving the birthplaces of the singers, rather than their proper hometowns, or nationalities. This can be misleading and unhelpful. For example, Anke Vondung was born in Como, Italy — a fabulous place to be born (or simply to be). But Ms. Vondung is German. Isabel Bayrakdarian was born in Lebanon — interesting to know. But she is Armenian-Canadian.

Quite helpful, however, was the fact that the Met went down to one intermission for “Figaro.” This streamlines the evening — which, at more than three and a half hours, is still long enough. On her way out, one lady was heard to say, “It was enjoyable, but just too long.” Many people have felt that way about Mozart operas, madam, even if they haven’t voiced it.

But I remember the words of Werner Hink, concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. In an interview a couple of years ago, he said that he had played “The Marriage of Figaro” over 500 times — and never tired of it, always basked in it. Here we have an example of true Mozart appreciation.»

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