Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Green eggs and ham

I found myself disappointed with the performance of almost every man in last night's Met revival of Figaro. Most of all in Philippe (son of Armin) Jordan, who had possibly the least impressive conducting outing this Jonathan Miller production has seen since its 1997 debut. (Best? Probably one of Edo de Waart's in 1999 or James Levine's in 2003 or 2005.) Still nevertheless professional, of course, for if he's worst it's among a remarkably well-turned-out group. But too often Jordan got in his own and the singers' way with inexplicable lurches and lags in tempo, vague pit-stage coordination, and an apparent preference for coaxing exquisite small phrases from the orchestra over maintaining the shape of a piece. He drew (from, incidentally, more or less the same players Levine used for Lucia) a forward but unrevealing sound, and while this Nozze showed more energy and forward momentum than his Don Giovanni two years back, they were more bluster than pep. Act 2's second half built to its climax fairly tightly and without too many hitches; the rest was more moments than the whole of Mozart's masterwork.

Also disappointing was Uruguayan bass Erwin Schrott in the title role. He doubly so, for his instrument and sound are undeniably impressive. But his overactive hamming, for a while refreshing (as a bit closer to the gesticulating quick-talking Latin factotum we might recognize as the Barber of Seville), soon tried my patience. Yes, he's Figaro -- but Mozart's is a Figaro who feels, whose fear of losing Susanna is and must be wholly real. In Schrott's case, this human element fails to appear from the caricature.

But in this he's definitely been more than encouraged by stage director Robin Guarino, who has fully farce-ified this revival. Figaro has the most business, but additions like the Countess rolling around on the floor with and actually kissing Cherubino in Act 2 (in this version, the Count's suspicion about her is pretty well-founded) abound. The amount of loose comedy makes it feel like week 5 of the revival (Met comedies' stage business tends to get looser and looser as a run goes along) and not the season opener. What will it actually look like by week 5? Who knows.

Michele Pertusi sang decently enough, but lacked the fire and dark sexual energy that predecessors -- most often Dwayne Croft or Peter Mattei -- have brought to the Count. Because of the other circumstances, that sort of driving force in the cast was much missed.

*     *     *

The women were much better, though having to battle conductor and stage directions kept any from shining at her best. Most impressive was probably Hei-Kyung Hong, whom I've heard both very good and very bad as the Countess. This was much to the good side, her arias as clear as ever (despite some weak spots, the tone is solid) and as honestly felt as anything this evening. Anke Vondung made a solid -- if somewhat straitlaced, though less so than Alice Coote last year -- Met debut as Cherubino, with a very American-mezzo-like sound. I liked debutant Kathleen Kim (Barbarina) a lot. Two other debuts: Robin Leggate (Basilio) and Ashley Emerson (a bridesmaid) -- both sounded fine but I couldn't tell at that length.

Finally, the Susanna -- Lisette Oropesa -- didn't get a program mention, just a printed slip. Her voice took about an act and a half to warm up (or relax), but she sounded good in the classic pingy soubrette-warbly way after that. As for character and feeling, she did about as well as anyone else on this night. Pretty good for a last-minute sub whose previous Met experience consisted of a Cretan bystander in Idomeneo and Trittico's nun #16, but not as much as one might hope for in future (perhaps when she's actually officially engaged ahead of time). But that goes for the entire evening -- I'm not sure even Röschmann's Countess could have made the whole more than it was: a night of easy laughs and few tears.

UPDATE (10/5): Edited to clarify whom the Countess was kissing.


  1. Runnicles in 2002, in the production where the second cast was much better than the first. Pertusi was in that one also, and I remember him having a much tighter sound than last night. Schrott's figaro came across as just plain mean.

    I gave up at intermission; not sure I want to revisit this mismash.

  2. I can't seem to find a de Waart recording of Figaro, only pieces. Could you provide a link or are you referencing a live performance?

  3. I meant the two sets of live performances he led here in 1999, one with Furlanetto (who, incidentally, wasn't nearly as vocally impressive back then) and Rebecca Evans, and one with Ildebrando D'Arcangelo and Barbara Bonney. Despite the lower star power, both of these really outshone the original performances with Terfel, Bartoli, et al. De Waart -- who unfortunately hasn't been back to the Met since -- had much to do with that.

    Maybe Sirius will or has rebroadcast that Christmas matinee with Bonney? That was something.

    On record I don't think anyone really compares to Erich Kleiber, but then I haven't tried new recordings in a while.


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.