What a difference a good conductor, new voices, and a creative revival stage director makes. The Met’s revival of Sir Richard Eyre’s 2014 production of Le nozze di Figaro, updated to a mid-20th century mansion of a wealthy aristocrat in Seville, looked and sounded fresh and fun, which is the essence of Mozart’s masterpiece, the original “Upstairs, Downstairs” as a social satire of the class system and sexual politics. This revival emphasizes the sexual interactions of the characters, sometimes violent but never crass, and we, the audience, cannot help but see the behavior of the rogue Count Almaviva not so much as harmless fun but as sexual harassment in its clearest form, an example of an opera written over 200 years ago being truly universal and modern at its heart.

Luca Pisaroni (Count Almaviva) and Christiane Karg (Susanna) © Chris Lee | Metropolitan Opera
Luca Pisaroni (Count Almaviva) and Christiane Karg (Susanna)
© Chris Lee | Metropolitan Opera

The cast of singers, all energetic and eager, were obliged to play their parts under the direction of revival director Jonathon Loy. As the overture began, the open stage with several ornate circular structures representing rooms in the mansion began to come to life.  A topless maid, scurrying away after a night spent with the Count, no longer seems very shocking. The sets and staging were not as awkward as they seemed at the première; this time they aided and enhanced the music and story of the opera with better blocking and directing of singers. Conductor Harry Bicket led a stylish, taut and efficient performance without sacrificing the lush melodies and harmonies of Mozart’s score. His tempo was just right, with enough variation to keep us engaged, and his dynamic control was superb, allowing singers to float their lines above the music. The complex ensemble singing at the end of Act 2 was performed with exquisite beauty, deft balance and control. Linda Hall, on harpsichord, played with unusual strength and clarity. I respect Mr Bicket’s determination to maintain the continuity of music, not affording the audience many opportunities to interrupt the drama with applause after aria, although some arias did deserve – and received –  applause.

Christiane Karg (Susanna), Rachel Willis-Sørensen (Countess) and Serena Malfi (Cherubino) © Chris Lee | Metropolitan Opera
Christiane Karg (Susanna), Rachel Willis-Sørensen (Countess) and Serena Malfi (Cherubino)
© Chris Lee | Metropolitan Opera

Veterans of the production, Luca Pisaroni as Count Almaviva and Rachel Willis-Sørensen as his the Countess, showed fine interpretations of their roles, both in voice and in acting. Pisaroni, tall and imposing, was at times hilarious and bossy, his smooth, unforced baritone tracing Mozart’s melodies with ease, except for one high note in his aria. Willis-Sørensen’s Countess was no less subtle, her emotional turmoil and hurt written all over her face. She nailed her two difficult arias with spot on intonation and legato, although high notes sometimes sounded thin and hollow. Her middle register, on the other hand, was rich and creamy, a perfect vehicle for the Countess’s melancholy. Serena Malfi, reprising her Cherubino, made good use of her bright voice with appropriate ardor, naiveté and cunning.

Christiane Karg, making the Met debut as Susanna, impressed with her assertive voice that was powerful, colorful and expressive. Her high notes opened with melting beauty, her aria late in the opera being one of the highlights. Another was the famous “Letter duet” of the Countess and Susanna; the two sopranos’ voices complemented one another as they weaved through the brief but memorable melodies. Karg played Susanna as a feisty and independent woman with her own mind and intelligence. Adam Plachetka was her perfect foil as Figaro. His sonorous voice and strong stage presence fit the role like a glove.

Christiane Karg (Susanna) and Adam Plachetka (Figaro) © Chris Lee | Metropolitan Opera
Christiane Karg (Susanna) and Adam Plachetka (Figaro)
© Chris Lee | Metropolitan Opera

Smaller roles were well cast and contributed to the overall success of the evening. Most notable was Maurizio Muraro as Dr Bartolo, a perfect Italian gentleman both in voice and in presence, acting as one of the few mature and calm characters of the opera, even through the discovery of his long lost son Figaro and his marriage to an old flame Marcellina. Another standout was Hyesang Park as Barbarina, with her gleaming and strong voice. All the characters of the opera gather at the end to sing a heartwarming celebration to end the day that began in chaos but concluded in forgiveness. If only the illusion of peace and acceptance were to last in real life!

****1