Martin Bernheimer in Opera:

The big event of the season, thus far, was the new production of “Le Nozze di Figaro,” which opened on October 29 (this, it could he noted, was only the Met’s 368th performance of Mozart’s masterpiece). The cast, led by Bryn Terfel in the title role, was stellar in depth. The hand-me-down staging came courtesy of none less than Jonathan Miller and indirectly from the Vienna Staatsoper. But, for better or worse (probably worse), the centre of attention was Cecilia Bartoli.

Having made her Met debut as an adorably tough, street-urchin Despina two seasons ago, and having returned as a gutsy-waif Cenerentola last year, Bartoli decided to play the Mozartian waif her way. That way involved a lot of rough, harsh tone, a great deal of robust and restless physical humour, endless mugging -vocal as well as facial – and unashamed vulgarity that permitted her to grind a heel into Figaro’s crotch when he was down in Act 4. So much for traditional sweetness and charm. At the first performance she sang the customary edition of the score, and the high tessitura posed no particular strain for her dusky mezzo-soprano. However, at the next three performances (which formed the basis of the forthcoming video and television presentations) she foreswore the bustling “Venite inginocchiatevi” and the sublime “Deh vieni, non tardar” in favour of the showpieces Mozart provided for Adriana Ferraresi in the Vienna production of 1789. Everyone applauded Bartoli’s virtuosity, but some observers – the producer reportedly among them – lamented the substitution of egocentric agitation for magical serenity in what used to be the garden scene (here, as designed by Peter Davison, something of a Baroque concrete jungle).

Miller’s rather absent-minded production stressed the corruption of a decaying aristocracy without paying much obvious attention to niceties of characterization or unity of perspective. Under the circumstances, one had to admire isolated achievements: Terfel’s hearty, extrovert Figaro, Renee Fleming’s exquisitely sad Countess, Dwayne Croft’s grandly befuddled Count, Susanne Mentzer’s puppydog-cute Cherubino, Paul Plishka’s big and bluff Bartolo, Heinz Zednik’s cannily effete Basilio and Wendy White’s gently understated Marcellina. (The last two had to make their mark with their arias cut, as usual.)

On this day in 1964 Metropolitan Opera’s opening night featured the Nathaniel Merrill production of Aida.

On this day in 1961 Frank Loesser‘s musical How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying opened on Broadway.

Happy birthday to Our Own and Our Indispensable Christopher Corwin, whose new podcast launches a little later today.