Genuine laughter dominated the house at Covent Garden during this recent performance of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, perhaps to the dismay of those who were searching for “undercurrents of unresolved class tensions.” The undercurrents were surely there, but, for me, were overshadowed by performers of Olympic caliber, a rare occurrence indeed.
Antonio Pappano was in brilliant form, not only conducting but also playing harpsichord continuo (a welcome sound for those sick of piano accompaniments in the concurrent Don Giovanni). His expert command of the orchestra (and harpsichord) elicited impressive sonorities during the overture and, generally, brought added verve and style to some of Mozart’s most precious moments.
As the beloved Figaro, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo was epically good. His powerful bass-baritone was at all times silky, lush, and, yes, thrilling. One must also admire his boldness: he took his own pace during “Non piu andrai,” possibly to Pappano’s dismay (though, it made great theatre). Rapports between singers and ensembles are of vital importance in Mozart, and D’Arcangelo played his lynchpin perfectly; his rapport was especially good with the Susanna, Aleksandra Kurzak.
Kurzak was quite bland at the beginning, but eventually warmed up, and by “Sull’aria” was on point. Although at times her voice seems slightly shallow in the middle register, she compensates with a great sense of comedic timing and superb acting skills. By Act IV, though, her shallowness had completely disappeared (while the skills remained), and Kurazk’s “Deh vieni non tardar” transported to a place that was both intimate and fantastic.
Played by Lucas Meachem and Rachel Willis-Sørensen, respectively, the Count and Countess Almaviva, whether together or separate, were fantastic. Meachem has a commanding and handsome presence on-stage, one that only increases as he sings with a stunningly beautiful lyric baritone. His “Hai gia vinta la causa” was done very well indeed: wonderful diction, superb phrasing, and a keen knack for moving through the difficult passages. Willis-Sørensen made a triumphant Royal Opera début. She has a rather powerful and rich voice coupled with an innate sense of musicality—though her acting could admittedly use some work—and listening to her exquisite pianissimos in “Dove sono” and wonderfully crafted phrases in “Porgi amor” was a pleasure.
Anna Bonitatibus was an expertly horny young man, loving everything in sight with an uncanny sense of realism. She sang both Cherubino’s arias very convincingly and with precision and clarity rarely found. Despite all these wonderful solo performances, the Royal Opera Chorus was not quite at its best, and there were moments when the orchestra and the soloists were slightly unbalanced. Enough has been said already about David McVicar’s production, and it supported the singers very well, but revival director Leah Hausman deserves mention for her very clever blocking, no doubt part of the laughs.
Finally, Willis-Sørensen and Meachem deserve one more accolade. After all the twists and turns, the scheming, plotting, and unresolved sexual tension, we arrived at the final scene, with Meachem’s “Gente, Gente!” signaling the opera’s immanent resolution. This is one of the greatest scenes in the Mozart canon: Meachem’s soaring plea for forgiveness and Willis-Sørensen’s loving reply were breathtaking. Pappano took a very wise, fragile tempo, and the entire scene and its ensuing finale were performed with a stylistic acumen rarely heard, even at Covent Garden. It was an unforgettable Figaro, a triumph.
Credits: Bill Cooper