Sir Richard Eyre's 2014 production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro is wound in such grand complications that its heartwood isn’t hewn until the fourth act, set in The Count's garden, a tremendous treehouse spiraling a majestic, old-growth trunk dropped in an ancient wood marsh.

Here, protagonists of Mozart's 1786, four-act opera buffa flitted among Rob Howell's monolith set, a latticed basilica of burnished wood carved in Ottoman filigree, which vaulted the opera house’s skyscraper stage (and, alas, created an echo-chamber for voices), dotted with lighting designer Paule Constable's warm lanterns.

<i>Le nozze di Figaro</i> at The Metropolitan Opera © Ken Howard | The Metropolitan Opera
Le nozze di Figaro at The Metropolitan Opera
© Ken Howard | The Metropolitan Opera
The effect was charmingly metaphoric – song sparrows darting crepuscular forest undergrowth, restless and frenetic among Eyre's production set in 1930s Seville. The Count as a silky peacock, strutting ruffled tail feathers, throat puffed out; Susanna as a fearless, red-breasted robin, earnestly tugging-up prey; The Countess as a pearl-grey mourning dove in soft, morose laments; Figaro as a wise but wary crow; Bartolo as a dumpy, tawny woodcock; and so on.

Like Beaumarchais’ play, La Folle Journée, ou Le Mariage de Figaro from 1778, set in the shadows of pre-French Revolution, Eyre's avian metaphor tapped an ephemeral world about to be blown away by Zephyr breezes rattling the pines in the little grove, like the Susanna/Countess duettino "Sull'aria..." as the ladies conspire against the unfaithful Count.

Eyre wove kinetic propulsion among characters with great immediacy. Honoring Beaumarchais' dramaturgical complexities, he created palpable protagonists driven by flaws and strengths, and highlighted incessant tensions in vital pulses.

Through Eyre’s sketches, stage director Jonathon Loy sourced Mozart's keen humanity. Here, Antonio (sung adeptly by Paul Corona) was graciously shifted from the drunk, leathery gardener to a competent estate watchman; Cherubino's exhausting lust was mostly extinguished, Barbarina was palatable; and Marcellina and Bartolo were polished-up from superficial caricatures.

At the other end of Eyre's reverence, the production’s constant freneticism stripped away the Mozart/Da Ponte graces. Beauty’s rarely found in agitation. Beneath pretty, whirling ornaments, there was little transcendence left. Pallid cheeks under the rogue, beauty was asserted, never implied in a production more about décor than much else. To wit, The Count’s “Contessa, perdono” reconciliation – despite wailing strings and the Count's deeply-bowed head – sunk like lead.

Luca Pisaroni (Count Almaviva) © Ken Howard | The Metropolitan Opera
Luca Pisaroni (Count Almaviva)
© Ken Howard | The Metropolitan Opera
As The Count, Luca Pisaroni was outfitted by Howell to reflect gentlemanly sport. Act I sailing chic came with a brass-buttoned navy jacket in soft Neapolitan constructions matched to cream, linen slacks. Act III’s polo sportsmanship came with high Spanish cut topline field boots and full-seat breeches. Little nobility or aristocracy left, Pisaroni held authority without relying on political menace, arrogance from vanity. With outstanding resonance and burnished, polished, lyric timbres, Pisaroni stamped beautiful, dark shades when needed or stripped it clean and clear with uniform emission in every register. Naturalistic recitatives (accompanied by harpsichordist Bryan Wagorn) were marked with great infections. Arias were masterclasses, such as “Hai già vinta la causa!”

Mikhail Petrenko's Figaro was played as a good-hearted, bullish dunce, more pigeon than crow. Dressed in nautical cuts and ornate bellhop uniforms, the voice was pleasant, the delivery was ardent and zealous, but there was an utter lack of interpretation and musicality. Inarticulate, glazed, hiccupped recitatives were delivered deadpan or ran past in wild throttles. Cavatinas and arias such as “Se vuol ballare”, “Non più andrai”, and “Aprite un po' quegl'occhi” were gnarled in invertebrate tongue, and carried little verve.

Isabel Leonard (Cherubino) and Anita Hartig (Susanna) © Ken Howard | The Metropolitan Opera
Isabel Leonard (Cherubino) and Anita Hartig (Susanna)
© Ken Howard | The Metropolitan Opera
Bridling hormones, Isabel Leonard's Cherubino gambled in kittenish, boyish charm between gaucho and garçon. Witty and confident, lighthearted and cocksure, she captured the budding Eros with great chiaroscuro lashed to her voice, casting all shades of tenderness, trepidation and fire with clear pronunciation. Chemistry ran high with characters in orbit, notably act two's “Venite, inginocchiatevi” with Susanna. Here, she transformed in stellar pace from the first lacquer of lips to the last tap of heels.

To no fault of Rachel Willis-Sørensen’s artistry, The Countess was painted in narrow, bitter strokes, a bit too mopey and aloof for a woman of such bearing. With great gravity and expression, “Dove sono” and the “Porgi, amor” boudoir cavatina showed-off melting, lilting timbres and dusky colors.

Anita Hartig's Susanna – in drop-waist dresses with girlish trims and Ottoman influence – shelved the saucy, impetuous soubrette for a grounded, gritty girl, marking a nice transformation with a warm, cherry-rose, lustrous “Deh vieni, non tardar”.

Ashley Emerson's Barbarina gave less whine and more girlish pluck in a solid "L'ho perduta, me meschina". In ringing, clear timbres and natty tweed, Robert McPherson made Don Basilio less of an unctuous tyrant with a tasteful, graceful, artistic voice that melded beautifully with The Count and Susanna in the terzetto. Doctor Bartolo's pomposity and hypocrisy was stripped away by Maurizio Muraro in a huffing, puffing “La vendetta” while Susanne Mentzer completed the blustery-flustery duo as Marcellina.

Like Eyre's production mired in complexities, Fabio Luisi was impossible to pin down beneath an overall symphonic, adroit, attentive and vital reading hedged by idiosyncratic belts of sound. La Folle Journée began as a clattering, rough, tangled overture, an uneven keel pitching wildly through the first duettino between Susanna and Figaro.

With tempi too brisk for singers, Luisi relented after noticeable lags climaxed during Bartolo's “La Vendetta”. With Austrian authority in the first two acts bleeding to Italian delicacies in the last two acts, Luisi matched Da Ponte’s nuances: apneic woodwinds gasped as Susanna and Figaro fought in the second duettino "Se a caso madama”; pianissimo strings reflected The Countess' bittersweet, faded memories in "Dove sono"; and lamenting strings sobbed in "Contessa, perdono".

Luisi knew where to look for Mozart's blood and breath. It’s in the wind.