By Raymond Beegle
Photo credit: Mary Sohl, the Metropolitan Opera
One of the many notable achievements of the Met’s 2006-07 season was a volley of near ideal performances of Le Nozze di Figaro. The cast was solid throughout, beginning with Figaro and ending with the second bridesmaid; the sets were elegant; there was ensemble and style. At the root of this success, perhaps, was the Canadian, Mark Wigglesworth, an outstanding Mozart conductor, whose brilliant phrasing and controlled tempos bring to mind masters like Karl Böhm and Joseff Kripps. Unfortunately he was not on the podium for this October 2ndperformance, and more unfortunate still is the fact that his name no longer appears on the Met roster. This is a significant loss for the company.
Wagner remarked that the one absolutely essential quality required of a conductor is a sense of tempo, and this was precisely the quality missing in the work of Phillipe Jordan. Under his direction the movement of the music was often uncomfortably tentative, and at times large spans of the score never seemed to become settled. The sequence of tempos at the end of Act II, for example, which must be carefully proportioned so that the final Allegro assai, piú Allegro, and Prestissimo carry their dramatic thrust, seemed a haphazard roll of the dice: indecisive, and runaway, reminiscent of a car skidding on an icy surface.
Erwin Shrott, who sang Figaro, suffered from a similar difficulty in this regard. He seems chronically to be swimming upstream, against the musical flow, and sings in a Puccini-like idiom where, for instance, sixteenth notes before a downbeat, which should align themselves with those of the orchestra, are delayed as long as possible, and consequently sung as fast as possible, to take up the slack. His arrivals nevertheless were usually tardy. As well, his slapstick acting was also noticeably out of keeping with the style of his colleagues.
As for the colleagues, the news becomes considerably happier. Hei-Kyung Hong has developed into a wonderful Countess. Her beautiful voice continues to bloom, and her characterization, to grow deeper. Anke Vondung was a convincing and charming Cherubino, and Michele Pertusi gave an absolutely superb performance as the Count. His Third Act aria, and the passage “Contessa perdono!” were wonderful, wonderful highlights.
The role of Susanna was sung by Lisette Oropesa, who substituted for Isabel Bayrakdarian. What a pleasure to witness such beautiful singing and acting. Forthrightness is one of the rarest and most precious qualities a singer can possess, and this singer has it. Her perfectly controlled, Deh vieni brought the house to absolute silence which, more than cheers, is always the mark of something fine.
But there was yet another soprano who made a deep impression. That was Kathleen Kim, who gave her debut as Barbarina. There is a budding Pamina here, ready to be picked, and I hope to be in the audience if this takes place. Also notable were the fine singing and acting of Ann Murray as Marcellina, and Maurizio Muraro as Bartolo. Perhaps there is more to his voice than this buffo part might suggest.
Bravo finally to Peter J. Davison for his magical set. The elegant eighteenth century palace, put slightly aslant, quietly underscores Beaumarche’s message that the foundations of aristocratic society were weakening. The brilliant light pouring in from magnificent windows also discretely reminds one that we are in the Age of Enlightenment. This was a design that spoke clearly without trying to be louder than the music.