Word of mouth: Le nozze di Figaro 2022.IV.13 (Lontano lontano)
Met Mozart strongly flavored by da Ponte thanks to Muraro, Filianoti, Lombardi
Le nozze di Figaro
Figaro (Raffaello) • Christian van Horn
Susanna • Ying Fang
Il dottor Bartolo • Maurizio Muraro
Marcellina • Elizabeth Bishop
Cherubino / seconda contadina • Sasha Cooke
Il conte Almaviva • Gerald Finley
Don Basilio • Giuseppe Filianoti
La contessa Almaviva (Rosina) • Federica Lombardi
Antonio • Paul Corona
Barbarina / prima contadina • Meigui Zhang
Don Curzio • Tony Stevenson
direttore • James Gaffigan
continuo fortepiano • Howard Watkins
Make no mistake: the Met mounted an enjoyable April weeknight Figaro. James Gaffigan's tempi neither jostled nor dragged his singers, the Met chorus was enthusiastic in sound and gesture, the orchestra effortlessly excellent, Howard Watkins's continuo steered blessedly clear of piano-bar ramblings, a largely North-American-trained cast gave a spirited show and the audience ate it all up.
Supporting turns included the Antonio of Paul Corona, the Don Curzio of Tony Stevenson—might he be the Met's equivalent to Piero de Palma?–and Elizabeth Bishop's broadly mischievous Marcellina. Special acknowledgement towards Meigui Zhang's Barbarina, no giddy child but instead a lush-toned, confident young woman. (Ms. Zhang's Thibault in the previous month's Don Carlos has also been praised in these pages.)
As Susanna, Ying Fang filled out one of the longest roles in the repertoire by the joint virtues of musical assurance, theatrical alertness, refusal to stress her breath, and a timbre that the ear receives gratefully.
In Sasha Cooke's fourth Cherubino ever the tonal warmth remembered from her Eduige a few weeks prior was far less in evidence, understandable given their contrasting tessiture—Eduige contraltile, Cherubino sopranile. She has the right spirit for the part; may she find a more congenial fit for it in her voice should she continue with the role, and if she leaves it behind, she won't be wanting for other repertoire to tackle.
Nota dolente: in recitative, Fang and Cooke shared the tendency to scoop up into pitch.
Il signor Conte was given lordly voice by Gerald Finley, his manfully welcoming timbre borne into the Met space by an efficient vocal emission—Finley does not waste breath, he projects by filling every note with tone—and suave musical manners. He deftly resolved his aria's tricky passages: gently sounding the low As of «che per me poi non ha» and «tu non nascesti, audace», launching through the triplets and trill of «e giubilar mi fa», and striking a clear-throated fa-diesis acuto in his final phrases. (That high note's security made one wish that Finley had dared the interpolated high G in the second act finale's «Olà! silenzio!»)
On occasion Finley did surrender to the joint temptations of raising pitches to express vehemence and falling off pitches in a cabaret manner.
In both movement and sound Christian van Horn threw himself into the character of the valet–bridegroom «Raffaello». He's plainly trained Figaro's multitude of syllables into his vocal apparatus; the vocal writing seemed to bring out timbral similarities between him and that deluxe basso buffo Fernando Corena. van Horn's occasional défaillances both verbal—Italian vowels realized as the American short U /ʌ/ and schwa /ə/ sounds, clipping notes short at double consonants, delivering rapid-fire recit phrases as tongue-twisters instead of as vital information—and musical—throwing his voice in the direction of the pitch (e.g. in his final aria, the quick upward leaps of «a cui tribuna incensi»), sustained notes droned straight-tone and not squarely in pitch center, and falling off pitches in cabaret manner (more avidly than Finley)—caught my ear. So did the obvious work he'd put into the role and, when on good musical behavior, the solid sound he could pour out, unaffected by preciousness.
Once van Horn cleared the stage after «Se vuol ballare», twenty-something minutes into the performance, hints of some deeper level of artistic engagement made themselves known. As usual, the next voice we heard was Bartolo; unusually, he was one of three Italians in a Met Figaro cast. That stage animal Maurizio Muraro etched da Ponte's text into Mozart's vocal lines with robust tone and ripe wit, in the recit preceding the Act III sestetto highlighting his statements and reactions with Italianate body language, ad libbing a wicked reaction of shock to Marcellina's insistence that they be wed that same day—«Oggi!»
Later in the act appeared Giuseppe Filianoti, a welcomely dense-toned Basilio, no camp sycophant but a witling of amaro-laced timbre.
The final member of la squadra madrelingua introduced herself in that Anthem of Sostenuto «Porgi, amor». Fearsome challenge: the first impression we get of the Contessa's voice, an aria unrelentingly insisting upon sustained tone, the close intervals an intonation trap, and tempting sopranos to rein in the character's emotions at the risk of closing the throat. Elegantly skirting such foibles, Federica Lombardi's Contessa stayed faithful of pitch, superbly innocent of those tuning smudges which habitually plague sopranos' renditions of the great arias. Hers is also the rare capacity to still her vibrato with no sacrifice of pitch, resonance, or breath flow. Bewitchingly feminine of vocalism and comportment, Lombardi's entire interpretation was a catalogue of beauties—one could cite her chromatic scales to finessed top Cs in «Susanna, or via sortite», or her hovering phrasing of «Dove sono», complete with tenderly laced variazioni in the reprise.
Linguistic ownership imbued these artists' singing: tone filling out confident vowels and demarcated by al dente consonants, the accenti not mere surface noise on the text's phonemes but inflections resulting from the very utterance of sentences, the meaning of each phrase more specific and less broad—both in the sense of being general and in being played for show—plus the very act of vocalism physically enhanced by unmistakably Italianate gestural vocabulary. May we more frequently hear a Figaro—or a Don Giovanni or a Così fan tutte—in which the vocal music is as much da Ponte as it is Mozart!