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Figaro is probably the angriest person in this opera. With the possible exception of the count, the most anyone else ever gets, as far as I can tell, is agitated. Which brings me to the Countess (Carol Vaness).
Depending on how the role is performed, the countess can be a little bit of a stick in the mud, can’t she. She’s one of those characters that can be anywhere from fascinating, in a psychological sense, to kind of irritating. (My friend R has a theory that the Countess is a masochist, but this is not a BDSM sort of Figaro so never mind that right now.)
Vaness’s countess isn’t really either fascinating or irritating. She’s sort of humorless. Even the little moments in the acting that are intended to be amusing, e.g. when the count stalks into the room in Act II and the countess, who has just hidden Cherubino, pretends to be flopped on the bed – or when Cherubino is changing clothes behind the screen and the countess is fanning herself in an ‘is it warm in here?’ kind of way – these don’t really make you smile. There is a flatness to the interpretation that I didn’t quite understand. “Dove sono,” for example, has an admirable feel of precision and control. The sound is lovely, and here and there, e.g. at the very end of the recitative preceding this aria, the phrasing is pretty. But in that same recitative, there’s a kind of weighty precision to each syllable – the singing doesn’t sound as if the Countess is speaking or thinking. It’s very . . . well-enunciated I guess? My attention didn’t flag, but I’m not sure that I really loved it.
And in the letter duet in Act III, the sound is again beautiful, but it doesn’t have a feeling of playfulness or spontaneity. This is not a performance where you feel as if there is subtle character development afoot.
You could probably say something similar about Kathleen Battle’s Susanna, that the performance is not intended to be super-subtle, dramatically. The acting seems a little surface-y, particularly earlier on in the opera, although there is an impressive precision to all of Battle’s facial expressions, which I noticed for example in the recitative after Susanna’s Act III duet with the count. However, Battle is so adorable and her voice is so pretty that it’s hard to complain:
But what I found myself enjoying most about this production was the orchestra. I don’t intend this as a denigration of the vocal performances – I just really love the way the orchestral music works in Mozart’s operas. Also, the more of these old Met performances I see and hear, the more I like Levine’s conducting. (And the way he bobs up and down and mouths along to the music, too.)
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