Starry second cast provides a riotous lift to Met’s “Figaro”

Sat Dec 30, 2017 at 12:41 pm
Nadine Sierra, Ailyn Pérez and Isabel in Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro" at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera

Nadine Sierra, Ailyn Pérez and Isabel Leonard in Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” at the Metropolitan Opera.
Photo: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera

The season premiere of an opera is usually the one to go to, but in this year’s runs of Le Nozze di Figaro, the Metropolitan Opera has saved all the star power for the second cast.

An impressive lineup it is, too: Nadine Sierra, Ailyn Pérez, Isabel Leonard, Mariusz Kweicień, Ildar Abdrazakov—any one of these names is enough to anchor a marquee for a major opera. To assemble them all together for the greatest ensemble piece in the repertory is quite a coup, and an example of the brand of casting magic that can only happen at an institution with as much pull as the Met.

The new cast, which made its bow on Friday night, gave a rewarding performance of the great Mozart–Da Ponte collaboration, albeit one that was generally more convincing through riotous comedy than through sublime music-making.

Abdrazakov gave a wonderfully affable portrayal of Figaro, seeming to have plucked the big-hearted trickster right out of Barbiere. He was in fine voice for Friday’s performance, his chocolatey bass nicely filling out the lyrical portions of the role, though losing a bit of body when he pushed for dramatic effect. “Se vuol ballare” was his finest work of the night, carried off with sly confidence.

Nadine Sierra’s plucky energy made for a winning Susanna, and her “Deh vieni, non tardar” was exquisite, her caramel tone radiant, her phrases beautifully sculpted. Otherwise, her voice was not always an ideal fit for the role; the admirable focus of her sound and her technical security were constant, but a little warmth was wanting and she seemed to be affecting a “feistiness” in her vocal characterization that became grating. Ailyn Pérez, playing the Countess, warmed up in time to give a credible “Dove sono,” but “Porgi, amor” was rough, missing her best luscious tone and loaded up with gooey portamento.

The real strength of Friday’s performance was the tightness of the comedy—the actors played off each other delightfully, and every moment seemed to land perfectly. Chief in this department was Isabel Leonard, who is now a reliable old hand as Cherubino, stealing the show every time she takes on this role, and drawing constant roars of laughter with her antics as the randy, willful teenager. The vocal part doesn’t feature the most interesting qualities of her instrument, but she was at her best nonetheless, her singing easy, focused, and fluid.

Kweicień has more color to his voice than he showed in Friday’s performance, but he sang with plenty of power and was a commanding presence as Count Almaviva. His Act III aria “Vedrò mentr’io sospiro” was arresting, a dark and dramatic reading that showed the character’s steely resolve.

Ashley Emerson, the new Barbarina, brought a quick soprano and lively stage presence to her role. MaryAnn McCormick was a treat as Marcellina, offering a lush, warm tone in a role that is too often cast as a wobbly harridan.

All told, this cast is eminently worth seeing—these are all singers of the first rank, and there is a real rapport among them that makes the work come to life.

Harry Bicket, having conducted the first cast earlier this month, remains in the pit for this second run. Many glaring lapses of ensemble on Friday left a listener wondering how much rehearsal time had been siphoned away to aid the substitutes in the Met’s upcoming Tosca, which opens on New Year’s Eve. Those kinks may very well be ironed out as the run goes along; Bicket’s funereal tempos and the general sleepiness of his reading, alas, are likely here to stay.

Le Nozze di Figaro runs through January 19 at the Metropolitan Opera. Caitlin Lynch appears as the Countess for the final performance.

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