Le Nozze di Figaro

The Metropolitan Opera on Saturday, April 15.

Le Nozze di Figaro is a soap opera, packed with disguises, infidelities, eavesdropping, improbable revelations and convoluted schemes. Figaro, Susanna, Cherubino, the Count and most of the other characters are content to live in a world of farce, but the Countess transcends the buffoonery of her peers. One of Figaro’s greatest strengths is the tension between the silliness of the story and the reality of Countess’ undeniable pain over her husband’s unfaithfulness. Mozart had the sensitivity to give the Countess dignity, and that choice elevates the entire opera.

Soprano Soile Isokoski lived up to Mozart’s expectations in her performance as the Countess at the Metropolitan Opera. Her third act aria, “Dove sono,” was beautifully mournful, particularly in the quietest passages, when Isokoski’s masterful control over her voice was most apparent.

Isokoski was hardly the sole standout in the excellent cast, though. Alice Coote made a strong Metropolitan debut as Cherubino, her voice rich but never heavy. Her rendition of the familiar canzona “Voi che sapete” was charmingly guileless. John Relyea and Andrea Rost were superb as Figaro and Susanna. Their vocal work was exquisite, of course, but they also projected a touchingly affectionate bond, even to where Sean and I sat high in the nosebleed seats of the family circle.

The staging in Jonathan Miller’s production, which made its premiere in 1998, highlights the emotion of the music beautifully. When Susanna sings of her love for Figaro and he overhears, believing she is singing not of him but of the Count, the pair stands pressed against opposite sides of a corner of the Almaviva palace. The blocking makes the aria breathtakingly intimate, all the more clearly a love song, yet tantalizingly unresolved emotionally.

The ultimate resolution comes, of course, when the Countess makes her grand final appearance, revealing the masquerade to the suddenly chastened Count. Much has been written by many far more eloquent than I about the perfection of that moment, the Count’s abject contrition and the Countess’ munificent gift of forgiveness elevated and emboldened by Mozart’s music. Suffice it to say that the Metropolitan production made the finale soar and brought me this realization: This is why I moved to New York.

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