All's well that ends well, Shakespeare observed, and the summer of the Metropolitan Opera's discontent could not have ended any better than with its smashing new production of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro.
Apart from the anxiety over the contract negotiations between the Met and its unions that left the season in doubt, just about anything that could go wrong with mounting a new operatic production did in the case of this Figaro. The director quit, one of the stars bowed out pleading sickness, and the labor dispute threatened to scrap the entire project.
But one by one each obstacle was overcome. The brilliant director Richard Eyre took over the reins of the production, the young soprano Amanda Majeski was recruited to sing Countess Almaviva, and James Levine was in the pit. The result is a sumptuous feast of marvelous music, gorgeous singing, farcical humor, and sexy romance
It's a feast opera lovers around the globe will be able to partake of when the Met offers its Oct. 18 matinee performance of Mozart's comedy as part of its Live in HD series in over 2,000 theaters in 68 different countries.
Mozart's 1786 opera is at heart a timeless sex farce that in both his exquisite music and in Lorenzo Da Ponte's libretto, based on the second play of Beaumarchais' Figaro trilogy, does not overlook the real grief that deception and duplicity can bring.
Eyre moves the time from the 18th century to the 1930's, but keeps it set in a villa outside Seville, although the costumes suggest more of an English country house: Downton Abbey visits the Costa del Sol.
The entire opera takes place on the wedding day for Figaro and Susanna, servants in the household of Count Almaviva. The Count is a strong believer in certain old-fashioned values, especially the droit du seigneur, and he sets out to claim his right to Susanna. Figaro, however, has other ideas and conjures a plan to thwart the count.
During the course of the day, a half dozen other amours and intrigues complicate matters. Jealousies flare and passions blaze only to fizzle and then flame back to life. Would-be lovers hide under beds and in closets and jump out of windows. Old secrets come to light and billets-doux go astray. Assignations are made and then not kept.
It is a classic romp and is brought delightfully to life by a splendid cast under Eyre's watchful eye that misses no detail, however small. Masterful theater director that he is, Eyre provides something to watch every moment, starting with Mozart's enchanting overture when a half-naked maid comes running across the stage followed by a satisfied-looking Count.
All of the singers are excellent actors and Eyre keeps everyone occupied and engaged in the scene while onstage, even if someone else is in the spotlight. Something is going on all the time, even in the scene changes: maids dust and sweep, footmen bustle hither and thither.
The Russian basso Ildar Abdrazakov, singing the title role, is a conniving valet in his opening act cavatina "Se vuol ballare," plotting revenge on the Count, then is a knowing man of the world in his "Non piu andrai" aria and later in the rather cynical "Aprite un po quegli occhi." As his betrothed, the German soprano Marlis Peterson is a fetching and frolicsome Susanna, shrewder than anyone else in the house. Her opening duet with Figaro sets the tone for the production.
Majeski makes a promising debut at the Met as the Countess, the voice of somber reality amid all the frivolity. Her "Dove sono," one of Mozart's loveliest arias, is full of wistful longing that cuts to the heart. As the Count, the Swedish baritone Peter Mattei presents a first-class cad, a dashing man of privilege who can't quite understand why everyone is against him.
And the hometown mezzo Isabel Leonard is a joy in the trouser role of Cherubino, the pageboy who falls in love with every woman he sees. The scene in which Susanna and the Countess dress him as a woman -- in fact, a woman playing a man playing a woman -- is a highlight of the evening.
Maestro Levine, who according to program notes has conducted over 65 "Nozze di Figaro" performances over the past 30 years, captures every nuance of Mozart's rich score. And Robert Morrison provides admirable harpsichord accompaniment to the recitatives.
One question may be begged about setting the production in 1930's Seville by the historical fact that a civil war is raging in Spain while all the shenanigans are taking place in the Almaviva house. But there is no worry about any bombs falling on the Met's new Nozze di Figaro. It's simply a thrilling night at the opera.