by John Yohalem
The best news about the Met’s eleven-year-old Jonathan Miller production of Le Nozze di Figaro is that it has been restaged by Gregory Keller, more tautly spun, many elegant jokes or character moments inserted, several idiocies discarded and with plenty of room remaining for singers with a flair for it (such as Luca Pisaroni and Isabel Leonard) to invent comic business of their own.
I’m particularly pleased that the ring is in its proper place at the final curtain. Remember the ring? (as Anna Russell would say.) This ring is the diamond the Count gives Susanna in the dark in Act IV, as down-payment on her imminent seduction, never realizing that it is not Susanna at all but his own wife on whose finger he has placed it. Subsequently, at the end of the opera, when all stratagems are unveiled, the Countess shows him the ring is on her finger — and only then is he forced to face, and publicly repent, his follies — which she forgives — appropriately concluding this longest and most sublime of buffo operas. In Miller’s original staging — in keeping, perhaps, with that gentleman’s professed disdain for sentimental tradition — she did not show her husband the ring, and he had no reason to believe she was the woman he had wooed in the dark. In other words, though we knew who was who, the Count never found out and we never knew what or whether he was repenting. The heavenly ending became acrid, uncertain, irritating. There was no resolution. Why bother? Why bother ending the music in the proper key? Why not stop five bars short at some other note? Because all things are synchronized here, as Mozart and da Ponte designed them to be, and the palace of Aguasfrescas becomes an idealized version of our own imperfect world, that’s why. Anyway: the ring is now on the right finger, shown to the right man at the right moment, and all’s that much righter with the world.
Another nice touch: Susanna and Marcellina symbolize their new friendship when they bump heads while heading out the same door in Act III — and we are reminded of their feud to the death back in Act I — but this time, as allies, they burst into giggles and squeeze through arm in arm. The effect may be borrowed from Verdi’s Falstaff (and he set it to music there), but it wasn’t an original bit with him either: Figaro, like Falstaff and so much great humane comedy, is about irreconcilables who forgive and reconcile. The audience also loved it when Susanna demonstrated the way a “lady” sashays, and “masculine” cross-cross-dressed Cherubino imitated her — but the audience (and I) loved that silly flounce when my grandmother took me to my first Figaro forty years ago.
Whoever is running the surtitles this year, by the way, is clever enough to know when to let them go dark — so the audience is obliged to look at the stage — and the laughs may come from the activity going on there — and they do.
I wish I’d liked the music-making of this revival half as much as I enjoyed the mugging. None of it was less than major house quality, but few moments transported me. Ah, where have they gone? Those sweet moments of joy and pleasure?