Oh Susanna! Idiots at the Opera Go To Le Nozze di Figaro

Richard Eyre’s new production of Mozart’s Le Nozzi di Figaro, set in the 1930s, opened the Met season with glowing reviews. The original cast including Ildar Abrazakov, who triumphed last year as Prince Igor. He triumphed again as Figaro, and Susan Leonard who went on to sing Rosina in this season’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, won raves for her Cherubino.

We’d seen a lackluster revival of Jonathan Miller’s Figaro a couple of years ago, and didn’t run out to this one, but I finally made it (without the better-half) on Thursday, and thanks to the Met’s FANTASTIC new rush program, I got to sit with the swells IN FRONT of the overhang for little more than the price of a movie ticket.

Barihunk Schrott
Barihunk Schrott
The world's coolest soprano.

All but two of the featured roles have been recast since the opening, but the singers worked so well together and seemed so comfortable, not only singing but with with the dancing and physical comedy that they might have been performing with each other for years. Bass-baritone Erwin Schrott proved his true barihunk chops as Figaro. Mariusz Kwiecien played the sleazy count with petulance and more than a hint of danger. We’d seen him as an aimless Eugene Onegrin in last year’s dreadful production, so it was great to see him get into the groove here. Making her Met debut, Serena Malfi was a scene stealer as Cherubino, really enjoying the physicality of playing a boy. Her voice was faultless. I can’t imagine her NOT becoming a Met favorite within the next few years. Rachel Willis Sorensen sang the Countess. She was no slouch at the physical comedy either, but for all of the antics she brought the heart into the evening. When she sang the Act III aria, Dove Sono, lamenting the mysterious loss of love, off-stage tears may have been shed. The world’s coolest soprano, Danielle de Niese sang Susanna. I’ve seen her live twice, as Ariel in The Enchanted Island and as Despina in Cosi Fan Tutte. Both times I found her charming, but on the edge of irritating with her mugginess. But listening and watching her as Susanna, I’ll admit to being totally won over. Her voice can be breathy, and maybe a bit thin, but she is certainly up to the demands of the role and you cannot not watch her – which doesn’t mean that she’sgetting by just on her looks. If you close your eyes and just listen, the emotion and the character are there too. She is without doubt a star.

The staging was brilliant. While there were no Franco references or anything to really indicate the 1930’s other than costumes, the updating worked and felt natural. This is the perfect production for theater lovers who think of opera as static and overly stylized. The singers not only acted, they moved. I loved the opening which featured a banquet table being set with the servants congratulating Susanna and Figaro, as the famous overture was played. Imagine that! Storytelling with no singing, dancing or dialogue, almost like a silent movie (with musical accompaniment). Edo de Waart conducted beautifully.

For those unfamiliar with the opera, here is the twitter version of the story: Count Almaviva want’s to boff Susanna before or after her upcoming wedding to Figaro. Susanna is trying to hold onto her virtue without getting herself and her soon-to-be-husband fired. The neglected Countess is lamenting the loss of her husband’s affection, while flirting with young Cherubino. Meantime Dr Bartolo, the Countess’ one-time guardian is still nursing a grudge against Figaro (See Barbiere di Siviglia) and trying to marry him off (for revenge) to his former mistress Marcellina, who lent Figaro some money he can’t pay back. There’s also Susanna’s cousin, the flirty Barbarina who seems to be sleeping with the count, and maybe Cherubino.

For all the bedroom farce of the story, the silliness of the “feudal right” premise and the utter ridiculousness of the revelation of Figaro’s true parentage, this is a story that through Mozart’s music has a serious core. Where does love go? And how the hell do you get it back?

There are four performances and plenty of seats left – including some cheap ones, so buy now or wait for rush,  and enjoy this just about perfect production.