Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, which enjoyed a well received run of performances at the Metropolitan Opera in the fall, returned to the boards on Wednesday night -- a warm-up for this Saturday afternoon's broadcast. Less than noteworthy, you might think. But the performance was more than routine for two reasons. First, the wonderful Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski assumed the role of the Countess, and brought to it her customary intelligence, sensitivity and exacting technique. Her "Porgi amor" and "Dove sono" were reason enough to be there.
But there was more: The young British mezzo Alice Coote, a singer that TONY contributor David Shengold had warmly recommended to me ages ago, made her Met debut as Cherubino, and this was the reason I attended. (I missed her Alice Tully Hall recital last Sunday; Bernard Holland's Times review is here.)
Those of you who tune in to the broadcast -- and you should -- will unfortunately get only half the story. Coote's sound was big, bold and secure, with an especially powerful low end. But what really made her Cherubino was the acting: her handsome bearing, her spry racing about, her rubbery countenance as this hormonally challenged boy responds to the adult games playing out all around. Coote's performance during the first act in particular was dead on, raising the stakes for everyone around her.
Happily, Coote couldn't have asked for better surroundings. John Relyea made for a powerful, convincing Figaro, while Peter Mattei -- who seemed impossibly tall in contrast to most of his colleagues, Relyea aside -- played Count Almaviva as a lupine predator just one step short of Don Giovanni. Andrea Rost's Susanna was a winning combination of beautifully secure singing and pitch-perfect characterization -- precisely the mix of pert intelligence and tender femininity that leaves me crushing madly on this or that adorable soprano. Even the smaller roles were afforded telling performances: Paul Plishka brought the right tone of bluster to Bartolo, while Jane Bunnell's haughty Marcellina and David Cangelosi's fruity Basilio were enough to make you wish that their solo numbers, victims of the standard cuts, had been included. Despite a few instances in which it seemed as if singers and players weren't entirely in accord, conductor Mark Wigglesworth led a trim, stylish performance, and the audience response was generous.
Flipping through the Met program, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer star power this company has lavished upon Figaro over the years. Elisabeth Rethberg, Eleanor Steber, Victoria de los Angeles and Elisabeth Söderström have numbered among the house's Countesses; Frieda Hempel, Licia Albanese, Bidu Sayão, Lisa Della Casa, Söderström again, Judith Blegen and Kathleen Battle among its Susannas. Ezio Pinza, Giuseppe de Luca, Ruggero Raimondi, Thomas Allen, George London and Thomas Hampson have trod the boards in this opera's primary male roles; Gustav Mahler, Bruno Walter, Fritz Reiner and Karl Böhm have been among its conductors.
And as Cherubino: Risë Stevens, Geraldine Farrar, Jarmila Novotná, Christa Ludwig and Frederica von Stade. And most recently, lest I forget, Joyce DiDonato.
This might not have been the Met's starriest Figaro, then, but it was a fine one. Time will tell if Coote is to assume the status of her prominent forebears, but her performance made what might have been a routine Wednesday night feel like an auspicious occasion. Press attendance was unfortunately almost nil, but Tony Tommasini's Times review is here. Meanwhile, as the Met's new regime rumbles forward in instituting its new order -- and directs the attention of media figures on high to Anna Netrebko's wacky cavorting in Don Pasquale -- I sincerely hope it won't neglect to bring Coote to town more often.
It's looking like a busy weekend ahead, including encounters with Handel, Robert Wilson
and Made Out of Babies, if everything goes as planned. [EDIT: Which it didn't.] You can therefore expect plenty of action here over the next several nights. But I do want to take a moment to mark a small milestone: This installment of Night After Night is number 100* since I fired this blog up on October 26 of last year. (The Roger Maris-like asterisk is called for since I did in fact delete one early post, which noted in a single sentence nothing more than the routine news that the Houston Astros, my old hometown team, had been eliminated during last year's World Series.)
In that time, this blog has received more than 36,000 page views -- probably no more than a tenth of which were my own. More than 130 people have left comments, some of my own favorite sites have linked here, and I've received some incredible e-mail messages from readers, artists I've written about, and old friends who just happened to stumble in. (Even Dr. LP has grudgingly started to take a peek now and then.) For many web sites, this might be small beans, but for me, it's kind of amazing and genuinely humbling. I'm grateful to everyone who has stopped by, and those who continue to do so. And I'll do my best to continue providing something of interest.
Coincidentally, while it wasn't pulled out to serve so portentious a role, the last item on tonight's playlist (i.e., what was spinning while I actually wrote this) reveals my seminal musical inspiration, the spark that fuelled everything that's happened since. No, I'm not kidding even a little bit.
Terje Rypdal - Vossabrygg (ECM)
Rage - Speak of the Dead (Nuclear Blast, May 16 release)
MGR - Nova Lux (Neurot)
Ghostface Killah - Fishscale (Def Jam)
Cheap Trick - All Shook Up (Epic/Legacy)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Le nozze di Figaro - Véronique Gens, Patrizia Ciofi, Angelika Kirchschlager, Lorenzo Regazzo, Simon Keenlyside, Concerto Koln / René Jacobs (Harmonia Mundi)
Joseph Haydn - Die Schöpfung - Simone Kermes, Dorothee Mields, Steve Davislim, Johannes Mannov, Locky Chung, Balthasar-Neumann Choir and Ensemble / Thomas Hengelbrock (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi)
Django Bates - You Live and Learn... (apparently) (Lost Marble)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Symphonies Nos. 39-41 - New York Philharmonic / Loren Maazel (Deutsche Grammophon Internet-only release)
David Borden and Mother Mallard with Kathleen Supové - Heaven-Kept Soul (CD-R demo)
Olivier Greif - Sonate de Requiem; Trio avec Piano - Emmanuelle Bertrand, Pascal Amoyal and Antje Weithaas (Harmonia Mundi)
Steve Reich - Variations for Winds, Strings and Keyboards; Three Movements for Orchestra; Tehillim* - Synergy Vocals, Los Angeles Philharmonic / Stefan Asbury (Deutsche Grammophon Internet-only release)
Chimaira - Chimaira (Roadrunner)
Solas - Reunion: A Decade of Solas (Compass)
Kiss - Kiss (Mercury box set, discs 1 and 2)