With a new and lively cast, Met’s “Figaro” is even more delightful the second time around

Sun Apr 03, 2022 at 1:39 pm
By Rick Perdian
Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro returned to the Metropolitan Opera with a new cast of principals Saturday night.

Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro is back for a second time this season at the Metropolitan Opera and better than ever. 

The Met mounted an excellent cast for the January run, but this one, headed by Christian Van Horn’s Figaro has the edge, chiefly because the cast seems to be having so much fun on stage together. The opening performance was infused with a sophisticated humor that suggested a well-cast Noel Coward play and proved a delight from beginning to end. Musically, it was just as exciting.

The comedy existed on multiple levels, but it was enlivened by the agility and athleticism of Christian Van Horn’s Figaro, Ying Fang’s Susanna and Sasha Cooke’s Cherubino. The charm was that their movements came so naturally, and were never forced. Van Horn is very tall and robust: Susanna could pound her fists on his chest with all her might without making him flinch, while he could pick her up and twirl her like a baton. When it was clear that he was winning the battle of wits with Gerald Finley’s Count, Van Horn jumped in the air for joy. 

Cooke’s Cherubino was equally nimble and fleet-footed, except when pinned to the ground by Van Horn’s Figaro. Cooke was excellent as the over-sexed teenage page that had clearly learned a trick or two from the Count, exhibiting more cockiness than awkwardness in the young man’s relentless quest for romance. With a plummier voice than many a mezzo-soprano who assays the role, Cooke dashed off an impressive, fleet-footed “Non so piu” and an ardent “Voi che sapete”.

Van Horn was a virile Figaro, as robust of voice as he was of frame. Fang’s Susanna might have found him a bit dimwitted at times, but he was a man who lived by his quick thinking. Van Horn tossed off “Se vuol ballare” and “Non più andrai” with aplomb, but was affecting in expressing his love for Susanna at the close of the opera.

To the extent there was a straight man among this trio of comedians, it was Ying Fang’s Susanna, although it was only by a matter of degree. Dressed in a pert maid’s costume, Fang was an enchanting Susanna. Her lyric soprano is crystal clear and carries effortlessly into the vast expanses of the Met. Rapt silence enveloped Fang, as she sang “Deh vieni, non tardar” with a combination of sincerity and sensuality that expressed the full depth of Susanna’s love for Figaro. 

Statuesque and beautiful, soprano Frederica Lombardi’s Countess was youthful and dignified. The Met’s costume department seemed to have taken special delight in dressing Lombardi, as her costumes fit her perfectly. And then, there was the voice. 

Lombardi sang both of the Countess’ bittersweet arias, “Porgi amor” and “Dove sono” with ravishing pianissimi, ringing high notes and exquisitely sculpted phrases. The perfect blend which Lombardi and Fang achieved in their duets together with their very dissimilar voices made those moments  truly memorable. Lombardi forgave the Count for his transgressions with all the beauty of tone and magnanimity of spirit that she could muster, and Gerald Finley’s Count was in need of forgiveness. 

Finley’s Count was a vainglorious man, whose duty was to command and by right have his every desire, sexual or otherwise, complied with instantly. This Count never passed a fresh young girl with a shapely figure without giving her a penetrating, lascivious once-over from head to toe. Finley vented the Count’s indignation over being outwitted by his wife and servants in a blistering “Hai già vinta la causa! … Vedrò, mentr’io sospiro”. Finley’s voice was at its most beautiful as he asked his wife for pardon, but there was little doubt that his Count wouldn’t stray again as soon as he had the chance.

Most other members of the cast were returning from the initial run. Elizabeth Bishop is simply delicious as Marcellina, all puffed-up pride and illusions of grandeur, which evaporate in an instance when she discovers that Figaro is the baby that was spirited away from her long ago. Bishop, however, met her equal in Fang’s Susanna, as they gleefully sniped at each other in their Act I duet. 

As Dr. Bartolo Maurizio Muraro whipped up a fury of resentment over the indignities that he suffered at the hands of Figaro in “La vendetta”. Giuseppe Filianoti is a scene stealer with his lascivious leer and roving hands. Paul Corona was equally winning as Antonio with his full-voiced bass-baritone; incredulous, but powerless to debunk the fabrications of Van Horn’s swift-talking Figaro. 

New to the cast was soprano Meigui Zhang as Barbarina. Her Barbarina was no naive servant girl, but a young woman well-versed in navigating the sexually charged atmosphere of the Almaviva manse.  Zhang’s revealed a voice in “L’ho perduta” that is clearly destined for larger roles.

Conductor James Gaffigan, who is also currently conducting Eugene Onegin, led a performance that flowed seamlessly from beginning to end. His tempi and dynamics were so natural that when he occasionally lingered over one of Mozart’s beautiful melodies, it came as a bit of a start. But who could begrudge him such indulgences, especially with the Met Orchestra playing with such finesse?

Richard Ayres’ production, which premiered in 2014, utilizes the Met’s rotating stage to great advantage by permitting the action to flow seamlessly. Rob Howell’s costumes, especially the stylish dresses for the Countess and Marcellina, establish that it has been updated to the mid 1930s, although with little actual Spanish flavor. It was the perfect backdrop, however, for this cast which acted with such flair and sang so splendidly. This is a Figaro not to be missed. 

Le Nozze di Figaro continues through April 21.  metopera.org

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