By Lynne Gray, PhD
Note: The streaming will be available for 23 hours at www.metopera.org
Monday, May 4
Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro
Starring Renée Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, Susanne Mentzer, Dwayne Croft, and Sir Bryn Terfel, conducted by James Levine. From November 11, 1998.
This is one of my very favorite operas and certainly one of the best casts ever on the Met’s stage. Mozart’s opera buffa (comic opera) in four acts was composed in 1786, to an Italian libretto written by the inimitable, Lorenzo Da Ponte. It was based on a trio of stage comedies by Pierre Beaumarchais. This one – “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 nobles were heavily frowned upon!). Figaro is the second story of the series – as we found out last month when we considered The Barber of Seville – the first of the stories about Figaro. Rossini’s opera based on the first story was written after Mozart’s based on the second! This also was the first of Mozart and DaPonte’s three great opera collaborations (Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte are the others) during the last five years of Mozart’s tragically short life.
British director Jonathan Miller focused this 1998 production on the decaying aristocratic world of the Almavivas. The cast includes Renée Fleming, now the Countess Almaviva (alias Rosina), Dwayne Croft as the Count, Sir Bryn Terfel as Figaro, Cecilia Bartoli as his intended bride, Susanna, and Susanne Mentzer as the libidinous young Cherubino.
The (somewhat less dashing than he was in his younger days) Count Almaviva has 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 law giving nobles the first right of entry into the marriage bed whenever one of their servants weds – the groom being summarily displaced on his wedding night. Barbaric, well yes, but rank had its privileges in those days, at least until this crazy plot took over. Many further complications are caused by characters we first met in Barber and include Dr. Bartolo now seeking revenge against Figaro for thwarting his original plans to marry Rosina himself; Bartolo’s housekeeper, Marcellina trying to collect on a debt Figaro owes her; Figaro, Susanna, and the Countess conspiring to embarrass the Count and expose his skirt chasing; the Count’s effort to retaliate by trying to compel Figaro to marry a woman old enough to be his mother – and then having it turn out at the last minute that she really is his mother; and, of course, the ever popular female in a trouser role (playing a man), playing a female in disguise.
There is simply no way to do justice in words 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 all come to a happy, if confusing, conclusion for four – presumably content – couples in the end. 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 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 know about love, to help him understand it.
* Susanna’s and the Countess’s beautiful duet “Sull’aria… che soave zeffiretto” “On a breeze… with a gentle little Zephyr” as they write and then send the note they hope will trick the Count.
* 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 coming vengeance on Figaro.
* And finally – each of the main characters’ arias in the last act – as everything is resolved – wonderful Mozart at his finest.
1. Renée Fleming as the Countess, Cecilia Bartoli as Susanna and Sir Bryn Terfel as Figaro in Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” at the Met. Credit… Beth Bergman / Met Opera.
2. Cecilia Bartoli as Susanna and Sir Bryn Terfel as Figaro in Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” at the Met. Credit… Beth Bergman / Met Opera.
3. Renée Fleming as the Countess in Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” at the Met. Credit… Beth Bergman / Met Opera.
4. Renée Fleming as the Countess, Cecilia Bartoli as Susanna, Sir Bryn Terfel as Figaro, and Dwayne Croft as the Count in Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” at the Met. Credit… Beth Bergman / Met Opera.