Worldwide reviews for a worldwide audience
LE NOZZE DI FIGARO
NEW YORK CITY OPERA
NOVEMBER 10, 2004
Reviewed By: Paul Joseph Walkowski
All the servant Figaro wants to do is marry the housemaid Susanna. Problems arise when the Count, Figaro's master, says he would like to exercise the right of "first night" with Figaro's bride-to-be. This announcement doesn't sit well with anyone, including the Countess, or the future Mr. and Mrs. Add to this mixture a little confusion about just who Figaro really is, and stir it around with the amorous intentions of an older woman, Marcellina, who has designs on Figaro herself, and who intends, with the help of a wealthy doctor to snare him into marrying her, and you begin to see the "problems" plaguing our young groom. Or so you think you do. Figaro turns out to be the long lost son of Marcellina and Dr. Bartolo. This rules out any relationship there. The Count turns out to be not so bad a guy after all when he realizes that he really does love his wife, and reunites with her. And Figaro and Susanna, with the help of a page, Cherubino, end up happily-ever-after.
WHERE I VIEWED IT:
I don't know what all the fuss is about regarding moving the City Opera to a new location, when where it is is as fine a venue to view opera as anywhere else. The seating inside is comfortable, the stage is large and the lighting is quite qood, as are the overall acoustics. The orchestra pit is deep and the seating is unobstructed -- although there are six levels of seating, and I sat on the second -- which provided, I think, some of the best viewing. The theater also has a large supertitle platform above stage, which is where I prefer to view it, making reading easy. All in all this is a good venue for opera; it is convenient to dining across the street, and in a plaza that is spacious and well known to opera goers. A parking garage provides ample space for those who drive to the city and the bus terminal is easily accessible by cab and only five minutes or so away.
This is the eighteenth of Mozart's twenty-two operas, and hailed by many as one of his best in the opera buffa tradition. It is also another one of those "gender-bending" roles where a major character, written for an adolescent boy named "Cherubino" was preferred to be sung by Mozart as a soprano, and is thus sung by a woman -- a popular idea in the late 1700s but one which, I think, needs updating today. Indeed, the technique of using women in young male roles was commented upon by two members of the audience sitting directly behind me at last night's performance. It confused them. With that Caveat, there is nothing to fault with the November 10th performance of "Le nozze di Figaro" by the New York City Opera Company. Indeed, there is much to commend. First, this performance runs three hours and forty-four minutes, with three intermissions. It is a long night, and a taxing one on the singers and, especially, the orchestra -- in this case, conducted brilliantly by Steven Mosteller. It was an orchestral performance that I know he, too, was pleased with as I saw him applaud the members -- left and right -- when the show was over. The orchestra's sound was rich and deep and full, and measured out perfectly to every moment of every scene, never too overbearing, never weak -- but just right throughout. Wonderful! I must also say, that the set and costume design by Carl Toms was impressive. The scenery, floor to ceiling in every scene, was rich in texture and warmth, and provided a great backdrop for the performers. And before getting to the performances, a tip of the hat must also be made to the lighting designer, Hans Sondheimer. While the lighting in some acts was harsher than I would have preferred, it was utilized well in others, such that it more than compensated for any minor deficiency I saw elsewhere. Lighting can make or break the "feeling" for a great set and performances and should never be underestimated in the effect it has on audience members.
And now the performances: Last night's performances were uniformly and consistently even and excellent, from an ensemble cast that fit each other -- well, like a glove. This was the first time I head David Pittsinger sing, and it was nothing short of an experience to hear his voice boom effortlessly -- or so he makes it seem -- across the stage. Mr. Pittsinger's bass-baritone is strong, clear, well-tuned, and fit to the task. He is a singer who is in his prime and whose voice demonstrates exactly why he is in such demand. In addition to a fine voice, he has good stage presence and control and doesn't impose his height on characters around him -- especially his female companions. [Read my interview with Mr. Pittsinger in the December issue of OperaOnline.us] Another bass-baritone, Jan Oplach's character, Dr. Bartolo, and baritone, Paulo Szot, as the scheming Count Almaviva also gave outstanding performances and when combined with the voice of Mr. Pittsinger and others on stage, when engaged in ensemble singing, made all the argument that ever needs to be made for this wonderful range. Paulo Szot, especially, deserves special credit for his performance as Count Almaviva. He was on stage the most, it seemed, in this demanding opera, and to the very end his voice never showed any sign of tiring. Not only that, but he sang very well.
In the female roles, the performances were simply awe-inspiring. One after the other, each singer brought to her role the charisma of the character they were performing, and voices that soared. Where to begin? Soprano Sharon Rostorf-Zamir as Susanna may be smaller in height than the rest of the cast, but her voice was anything but. She sang with great emotion and control. When the moment called for vulnerability, she simply adapted and both her cadence and consonance followed -- sweet and softly. When the moment called for indignation or anger, she rose to the occasion and her voice opened and filled the hall with a strong, sure and steady sound. Countess Almaviva, sung superbly by Orla Boylan, soprano, demonstrated the same mastery of the range, but added a touch, dramma giocoso, to what she did with her character. Even when she was vulnerable, she sang with the voice of studied aristocracy carrying herself on stage with the bearing of one who was born into wealth and privilege. Nicely done! Mezzo-soprano Gwendolyn Jones, singing the role of Marcellina, ardent pursuer/mother of Figaro, added another nuanced interpretation to the cast of women characters and through her voice opened up another dimension -- more aggressive, more demanding, yet always feminine and rich and moving. Lastly, there is Cherubino, the woman made man by Mozart, sung wonderfully by Jennifer Rivera. Some in the audience may have been confused, some may have been confounded (that would be me) and some were simply entertained by this mezzo-soprano's performance, but all had to agree that she gave it her heart and in the process won ours. She sang the role wonderfully, and again, added another nuance to the range we call mezzo-soprano. She delivered well in both areas, and did so while engaged in some physical antics on stage. Nicely done!
The chorus, headed by chorus master Gary Thor Wedow, provided strong and full support to the lead cast and added enjoyable depth to a score that at times called for and got it. The New York City Opera can be proud of this production; it delivered Le Nozze di Figaro to the audience in a smartly wrapped package that contained all the elements necessary for and sought after by opera-goers: it was colorful, well acted and superbly sung by a wonderful ensemble cast, beautifully staged and lit and accompanied by an orchestra that makes live opera such a pleasure to experience.
Conductor, Steven Mosteller
Production, John Copley
Stage Derictor, Albert Sherman
Set and Costume design, Carl Toms
Lighting Designer, Hans Sondheimer
Supertitles, Daniela Siena