Despite a production that looks like a Downton Abbey mash-up, the Metropolitan Opera’s revival of Sir Richard Eyre’s production of Le nozze di Figaro provides an elegant and musically satisfying showcase for Mozart’s genius and the talent of many fine performing artists. The production opened with a matinee and will continue with two separate casts with different conductors through the end of February.

Nadine Sierra (Susanna), Adam Plachetka (Count Almaviva) and Susanna Phillips (Countess Almaviva) © Marty Sohl | Met Opera
Nadine Sierra (Susanna), Adam Plachetka (Count Almaviva) and Susanna Phillips (Countess Almaviva)
© Marty Sohl | Met Opera

Set in Seville during the 1920s or 30s, the farcical plot focuses on Count Almaviva’s designs on his servant, Susanna, who is about to marry another servant, Figaro. As shrewd as she is comely, the young woman teams up with the Countess to trap the Count in a comedy of errors. By the end of the tale, the contrite Count returns to his wife, and Figaro and Susanna are wed.

The overall feel of this production is somewhat claustrophobic, with an inexplicably towering set rising above the modest dimensions of the Met stage and performers who tend to huddle in small groups. But despite the dark visuals, the music rises as fresh and revitalizing as it must have during its Viennese debut in 1786.

Luca Pisaroni (Figaro) and Nadine Sierra (Susanna) © Marty Sohl | Met Opera
Luca Pisaroni (Figaro) and Nadine Sierra (Susanna)
© Marty Sohl | Met Opera

The broad, enthusiastic gestures of conductor Antonello Manacorda, making his Met debut, seemed to draw out the orchestra’s verve and technical excellence, from the opening flutters of the overture to the final burst of euphoric resolution at the end of Act 4. No less impressive was a cast of singers who blended various degrees of expressive musical talent with impressive abilities as actors and, at times, the stamina of athletes.

Among these, here was no finer performance in this production than Susanna Phillips as the Countess. In Act 2’s “Porgi, amor”, the mellow richness of her soprano voice communicated a touching despair. Similarly, in Act 3, Phillips not only captured the sweet sadness of the aria, “Dove sono”, but infused her preparatory recitative with heartbreaking delicacy, her voice rising like a bell to a lingering A, then hovering there ever so briefly before gliding into the familiar, anticipated aria. As her husband, the Czech bass-baritone Adam Plachetka presented the lecherous Count as a multi-faceted human being, ranging from a diabolical schemer to a man humbled by a loving wife’s forgiveness.

Luca Pisaroni (Figaro) and Gaëlle Arquez (Cherubino) © Marty Sohl | Met Opera
Luca Pisaroni (Figaro) and Gaëlle Arquez (Cherubino)
© Marty Sohl | Met Opera

In her Met debut, Gaëlle Arquez, a French mezzo-soprano, portrayed Cherubino, an adolescent boy in love with love, one of the most popular “trouser roles” in opera literature. Arquez’s Cherubino was flirtatious and nimble, both vocally and physically as her character leapt over furniture, crept under the bed, and scrambled to a high window, dropping into the unseen garden below. Seeing Cherubino in a white Gatsby-style suit, though, was quite a disconnect; there is something indescribably sexy about the traditional Cherubino: a small woman attired in 18th-century male court attire with a powdered wig and a naughty spot of rouge on each cheek. A standout in the secondary role of Dr Bartolo was Brindley Sherratt, a bass from the UK whose richly modulated voice was a delight.

Nadine Sierra (Susanna) and Gaëlle Arquez (Cherubino) © Marty Sohl | Met Opera
Nadine Sierra (Susanna) and Gaëlle Arquez (Cherubino)
© Marty Sohl | Met Opera

As Susanna, Nadine Sierra demonstrated tremendous comic timing and a physical agility that couldn’t be matched by the most polished comedienne. I didn’t think her voice was exactly right for the role, perhaps a bit bossy with too bright an edge. However, she excelled in the aria, “Giunse alfin il momento” in Act 4. Luca Pisaroniwas capable as Figaro, but lacking that hint of a roguish personality that enlivens this central character. Elizabeth Bishop’s supple mezzo voice was just right for the spinster, Marcellina, though she was attired in such a way that she was a dead ringer for Mrs McCarthy in the Father Brown TV series.

Despite its comic persona, Nozze has moments of sublimity that are universal: the long finale at the end of Act 2 transcends anything in this opera or any other; and the bittersweet words sung in the last moments of Act 4 tell of timeless human yearning for love and peace: “Do let us be happy forever”. To which we can add only, “Amen!”

****1