The Metropolitan Opera on Tuesday, December 8.
I believe Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) is commonly considered the most accessible of Mozart’s operas. Because it’s technically not opera but singspiel, its between-aria dialogue is not sung but spoken. Ingmar Bergman adapted it for screen, and the Metropolitan Opera has been putting it on every December for the past few years in a bid to make it a tradition in holiday family entertainment. But for me, the utter insanity (and misogyny) of Flute sets it well below another beloved Mozart opera, Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), which, to my ears and eyes, is far more accessible and charming and beautiful than Flute can ever be. True, Figaro is all about sex and infidelity, so it’s not a great candidate for holiday family entertainment, but for an adult audience, Figaro is dazzling.
It’s particularly impressive that Figaro is so sweet and light considering that its premise is almost identical to that of the movie Braveheart. Seriously: The protagonist tries to prevent the local authority from exercising his barbaric feudal right to sex with said protagonist’s fiancée on her wedding night. In Braveheart, this ends in blue-dyed faces, massive bloodshed, and Mel Gibson being drawn and quartered (“Freedom!”), but Figaro is an affectionate farce, dancing around its grave subject with delicacy and eventually arriving at a fairy-tale ending. Tone is everything.
I attended Figaro with my friend Katie, who was in town for the week. We arrived too late for rush tickets but managed to score cheap standing-room seats at the back of the orchestra section. Then, after the first act, a departing couple gave us their insanely good tickets, dead center, only about a dozen rows from the stage. From that vantage point, we saw just how well the acting matched the spectacular singing. Luca Pisaroni played Figaro to perfection, with a warm baritone, impeccable comic timing, and crackling good chemistry with his Susanna, the flirty Danielle de Niese. Isabel Leonard’s Cherubino was adorable, with elegant phrasing and a lovely, boyish voice. And Annette Dasch’s Countess was livelier than others I’ve seen—an interesting take that made her graver moments, including her transcendent pronouncement of forgiveness, strikingly resonant.
I’ve seen Figaro before, of course—even this particular production, albeit with a different cast—but experiencing it with Katie was special, particularly when we magically ended up in unbelievably good seats. The holiday season has left me rather frazzled, but Figaro again reminded me, even amid all the tumult: This is why I moved to New York.