The Met Streams Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and Puccini’s La Bohème

By Lynne Gray, PhD

Please note this can be seen at www.metopera.org

Saturday, July 18

Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro  ~ 3Hrs 18Mins

Starring Amanda Majeski, Marlis Petersen, Isabel Leonard, Peter Mattei, and Ildar Abdrazakov, conducted by James Levine. From October 18, 2014.

For the Met’s second take on Nozze, we have Richard Eyre’s elegant production, which opened the Met’s 2014–15 season. It sets the action of Mozart’s great comedy in an intricately carved manor house in 1930s Seville. Ildar Abdrazakov (we’ve seen him in Anna Bolena, Prince Igor, Semiramide and Carmen) leads another talented ensemble cast as the infinitely resourceful Figaro, once again set on outwitting his master, the philandering Count Almaviva, played this time by Peter Mattei (he was Wozzeck just two days ago!). Marlis Petersen (Hamlet and Lulu) sings Susanna, the latest object of the Count’s affection, but also Figaro’s bride-to-be. Amanda Majeski (she was in Cosi #1) is the Countess and Isabel Leonard (Dialogues des Carmélites, Marnie, The Tempest, Cosi #2 and she will star in Barbiere #2 on Monday) gives a standout performance as the adolescently hormonal pageboy Cherubino. Music Director James Levine is on the podium and brings out all of the humor, drama, and humanity in Mozart’s endlessly melodic score. 

Composed in 1786, to an Italian libretto written by the inimitable, Lorenzo Da Ponte, Nozze was based on the second of a trio of stage comedies by Pierre Beaumarchais. This play – “La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro” (“The Mad Day, or The Marriage of Figaro”), was first performed in 1784 after long battles with the censors of the time (plays that suggested servants could outwit – not to mention get the best of – their masters were heavily frowned upon and not allowed on the stage!). As we found out in March when we last considered The Barber of Seville, which was the first of the stories about Figaro, Rossini’s opera about the first story was written after Mozart’s opera about the second. Nozze was also the first of Mozart and DaPonte’s great opera collaborations (Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte are the others) which were completed in the last five years of Mozart’s tragically short life.

This wonderful opera delivers a delightful parade of memorable tunes and is at once a truly funny comedy about class and sexual politics, as well as a still-relevant social commentary. Constructed around something of an upstairs-downstairs idea, it makes ingenious dramatic use of tangled love interests, interwoven deceptions and disguises, and even some nearly slapstick farce thanks to the libidinous page, Cherubino and the tipsy Gardener, Antonio. A large and talented ensemble cast of distinctive characters (and lovably imperfect humans) is required. Peter Mattei’s Count Almaviva actually has no more self-control than the hormone-addled teenage boy Cherubino, but both receive just chastisement by the end.

To recap the plot – the (somewhat less dashing than he was in his younger days) Count Almaviva has apparently become a lecher of the first order since his successful wooing of the lovely Rosina several years earlier (in The Barber of Seville). As this opera opens, we are soon given to suspect that the Count now lusts after Susanna, maid to the Countess and betrothed of Figaro, alias “the barber of Seville” – who is now the Count’s valet.

Almaviva desires to take advantage of a medieval custom giving nobles the right of first entry into the marriage bed whenever one of their servants weds – the groom being summarily displaced on his wedding night. Definitely barbaric, but rank certainly had its privileges in those days, at least until this crazy plot came along. Many further complications are caused by various characters we first met in Barber and include Rosina’s guardian, Dr. Bartolo who is now seeking revenge against Figaro for thwarting his original plans to marry Rosina himself; Bartolo’s housekeeper, Marcellina who is trying to collect on a debt Figaro still owes her; Figaro, Susanna, and the Countess who are now conspiring to embarrass the Count and expose his skirt chasing; the Count, who endeavors to retaliate by trying to compel Figaro to marry a woman old enough to be his mother – until it turns out at the last minute that she really is his mother; and finally, of course, Cherubino, the ever popular trouser role (that is, a mezzo who plays a man), who winds up playing a female in disguise to trick the Count and thwart his anger.

There is simply no way to do justice to the twists and turns of this wonderful farce and the “Mad Day” it takes us through – although there are also many touchingly beautiful moments to savor along the way. Mistaken identities, gender bending disguises, deceptions, double crosses, blunders, and mishaps and mayhem all find varying degrees of success – and it all comes to a happy, if confusing, conclusion for four – presumably content – couples in the end (the Count and Countess, Figaro and Susanna, Bartolo and Marcellina and Cherubino and Barbarina). Musical highlights to watch for: 

* Figaro’s budding understanding that the Count is scheming to use his droit du seigneur (right of the master) leads to his cavatina: “Se vuol ballare signor contino” – (If you want to dance, sir count – I’ll call the steps); 

* Young Cherubino’s lament concerning his uncontainable romantic desires for every woman he sees, including the Countess and (more his own age) the gardener’s daughter, Barbarina “Non so piu cosa son, cosa facia;” 

* Figaro’s “Non piu andrai” (No longer will you be the amorous butterfly) sung to Cherubino after the Count once again catches him in a compromising position with a woman and banishes him to the army;

* The Countess’s touching lament “Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro” (Where has love gone);

* Susanna’s “Venite, inginocchiatevi” as she attempts to dress Cherubino as a girl and he keeps trying to get to the Countess’s bed; 

* The Countess’s “Dove sono i bei momenti” as she again laments the loss of the good times of sweetness and pleasure she once had with the Count;

* Cherubino’s “Voi, che sapete” plea to the Countess and Susanna, who presumably know about love, to help him understand it;

* Susanna’s and the Countess’s beautiful duet “Sull’ aria… che soave zeffiretto” “(n a breeze… with a gentle little Zephyr) as they write and then send the note they hope will trick the Count into an embarrassing position;

* The Count’s “Hai gia vinta la causa” – as he is initially thinking he’s won Susanna but beginning to realize that he is probably falling into a trap and vowing to take great pleasure in his vengeance on Figaro.

* And finally – each of the main characters’ arias in the last act – as everything is resolved – wonderful Mozart at his finest.

This is a wonderful – and wonderfully sung – update of a classic masterpiece; do catch it if you can.

Sunday, July 19

Puccini’s La Bohème    ~ 2Hrs 4Mins

Starring Teresa Stratas, Renata Scotto, José Carreras, Richard Stilwell, and James Morris, conducted by James Levine. From January 16, 1982.

Although this is the fourth Bohème the Met has streamed so far, it is actually the first production ever to use the now classic Zeffirelli sets. The entire production, in fact, is now considered to be such a rare and valuable classic that the DVD costs over $70 on Amazon. Puccini’s haunting opera about young love is certainly one of history’s greatest and most popular operas, and many more great singers than I could possibly list here have appeared in it over the years. There is something especially endearing, however, about this magical first cast: the touching and fragile Teresa Stratas is the dying Mimi, and young, handsome Jose Carreras is her passionate lover, Rodolfo. A flamboyant Renata Scotto is the irrepressible Musetta, Richard Stilwell is the moody Marcello and James Morris is the sentimental philosopher, Colline. James Levine conducted the Met’s orchestra with his very special combination of sensitivity and verve. 

The story is an archetypal tragedy and the entire opera is filled with gorgeous and deeply moving music. Puccini’s timeless tale of love, camaraderie, jealousy, and loss in the garrets and cafés of bohemian Paris has reliably enchanted audiences since its 1896 premiere, while always leaving them in tears. In case you need a quick review, the story follows the trials and tribulations of two stormy young couples – Rodolfo and Mimì, along with Marcello and Musetta – each with their own unique relationship challenges, plus two other Bohemian friends – Schaunard, a musician and Colline, a philosopher. In Act I, we are introduced to the four young men and their poverty as they trick their landlord out of his rent. Three of them finally depart to celebrate Christmas Eve in the Latin Quarter, conveniently leaving Rodolfo alone just when Mimì knocks on the door asking if he would relight her candle. It is, of course, love at first sight for Mimì and Rodolfo and consequently we are treated to the famous Bohème trifecta: “Che gelida manina” (What a cold little hand) as Rodolfo ‘accidently’ touches Mimì’s hand when they are searching for her dropped key and he tells her about himself; “Mi chiamano Mimì” (They call me Mimì) as she responds and introduces herself and “O soave fanciulla” (Oh lovely girl) as they are happily expressing their new found love and leave to join the others – easily the most hummable and most beautiful 15 minutes you will ever spend watching an opera. 

Act II takes us to the Café Momus on Christmas Eve (and the glorious multi-story Zeffirelli set) where Mimì is introduced to the other Bohemians and Rodolfo’s friend Marcello is reminded of his (barely contained) desire for Musetta. When she appears with her new ‘patron,’ her “Quando me’n vo'” (often called Musetta’s Waltz) is a showstopper – and has its desired effect. Musetta and Marcello are back together again.

By Act III, the mood has darkened considerably. It is still winter, and Rodolfo has tried to leave Mimì several times – ostensibly because of his jealousy, but actually because he cannot bear to see her suffering (from her advancing consumption) in his cold garret. He secretly hopes she will find a wealthy ‘patron’ who will be able to take better care of her. Marcello and Musetta are also still together but fighting more bitterly than ever. The act ends as they split, but Mimì and Rodolfo decide to stay together just until Spring. Their quartet: “Addio dolce svegliare alla mattina!” (Goodbye, sweet awakening in the morning!) is one of the most beautiful in all opera. 

Act IV finds us once again in the garret – Marcello and Rodolfo are lamenting their lost loves, this time in a tenor-baritone duet that is particularly gorgeous and moving, “O Mimi, tu piu non torni” (Oh Mimì, you will return no more). Musetta interrupts them saying she has brought Mimì who is too ill to climb the steps on her own. All that remains then are the Bohemians’ fervent, if futile, attempts to save her. The final heart rending duet which revisits Rodolfo’s and Mimì’s first meeting is followed by Mimì’s final gentle slide into death – most unusual for an expiring soprano – and remarkably effective. Get your hankies ready! As I said – you can never see, or even listen to, Bohème too many times!

Photo Credits

1. Amanda Majeski as Countess Almaviva, Marlis Petersen as Susanna, Ildar Abdrazakov as Figaro, and Peter Mattei as Count Almaviva (plus Marcellina, Bartolo and Basilio) in Richard Eyre’s production of Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” at the Met, 2014. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

2. Amanda Majeski as Countess Almaviva, Marlis Petersen as Susanna, and Isabel Leonard as Cherubino in Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” at the Met, 2014. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

3. Marlis Petersen as Susanna and Peter Mattei as Count Almaviva in Richard Eyre’s production of Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” at the Met, 2014. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

4. Marlis Petersen as Susanna and Ildar Abdrazakov as Figaro in Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” at the Met, 2014. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

5. Ildar Abdrazakov as Figaro in Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” at the Met, 2014. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

6. Teresa Stratas as Mimì and José Carreras as Rodolfo in Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Puccini’s “La Bohème” at the Metropolitan Opera in 1982. Photo Credit: Met Opera Archives.

7. Allan Monk as Schaunard, José Carreras as Rodolfo, Italo Tajo as Alcindoro and Richard Stilwell as Marcello in Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Puccini’s “La Bohème” at the Metropolitan Opera in 1982. Photo Credit…Erika Davidson/Metropolitan Opera.

8. Renata Scotto as Musetta and Richard Stilwell as Marcello in Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Puccini’s “La Bohème” at the Metropolitan Opera in 1981. Photo: Met Opera Archives.

9. Teresa Stratas as Mimì and José Carreras as Rodolfo in Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Puccini’s “La Bohème” at the Metropolitan Opera in 1981. Photo Credit: Met Opera Archives.

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