Le Nozze di Figaro, Mozart

Lyric Opera of Chicago

9th March, 2010

Swinging for the Stars

Le nozze di Figaro represents one of the great marriages between libretto and music. Although this opera has dutifully shouldered its fair share of Regietheater stagings in the last half century, it is also immensely enjoyable when performed simply, set, as intended, in a nobleman’s house in 18th century Seville. The Lyric Opera’s production is just that: an old-fashioned, handsome Peter Hall set and staging that makes no attempt to update or impose upon the genius of the original work.

I wonder, though, what Mr. Hall would make of this most recent outing of his production. The Lyric’s publicity calls it “A Cast For The Ages,” and, indeed, it does roll out a fair amount of star power. But the direction of this revival, by Herbert Kellner, engaged the opera only on a shallow level and was littered with shrill acting and unfunny comedic bits.

Kyle Ketelsen was a fine Figaro; though he pushed through the uppermost notes of the role, he created the most believable, and therefore likeable, character on stage. He was partnered by soprano Danielle De Niese as Susanna. If you haven’t heard of Ms. De Niese in the last year, chances are you were stuck on an abandoned island. She has been making important debuts left and right, she recently released her second Decca album (Mozart arias with Sir Charles Mackerras) and she has graced more editorial covers than any other singer in recent history. On the basis of this performance, however, I don’t see what the fuss is all about.

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Photos by: Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago

Susanna is a tough role—long and without anything flashy in it; she has to carry the show in an understated way. The role is mostly middle voice with large tracts of recitative. What Ms. De Niese does have going for her is a voice that speaks, that feels, in the best way, like she is communicating, not just making sound. The best Susannas find little moments to make us fall in love with them—a graceful messa di voce here, a beautiful pianissimo there. There was not much subtlety in either Ms. De Niese’s vocal performance or in her characterization, which consisted of a lot of mugging for the audience. 

Ms. De Niese, in case you haven’t seen her photos, is stunningly beautiful. She had on a bizarre amount of bright blue eye shadow this evening, but who knows whether that was due to her own demands or the make-up artist’s. I do hope, for the sake of opera, that this role was simply not the best showcase for her talents. The opera world seems to have already crowned her the Next Big Thing and we could certainly use a bona fide star or two.

Kudos go to soprano Amanda Majeski, scheduled to perform the Peasant Girl, who stepped in to sing the Countess when Anne Schwanewilms pulled out, and did a very good job of a notoriously exposed role. Ms. Majeski, a first-year member of the Ryan Center (the Lyric’s young artist training program) was poised and sang a musically expressive performance. It’s a little bit premature for her to take on this role in such a house; for the rest of the run, the Lyric has engaged Nicole Cabell, a star graduate of the Lyric’s training program. Mariusz Kwiecien was her philandering husband, the Count Almaviva. I’ve never heard Mr. Kwiecien give a bad performance, but this sometimes felt phoned in. Still, his singing is exceptional top to bottom, and vocally he did not disappoint in this, one of his signature roles.

Joyce DiDonato is, ahem, a mature Cherubino, and though she certainly can pull off the role vocally and she does more dramatically with it than other Cherubinos many years her junior, one wonders how much longer she will continue with this one. This was a late-Romantic Cherubino, full of vocal and musical gestures that seemed beyond the expressive sphere of a 15-year-old. It was a little like what one imagines would come of a Renee Fleming Susanna—sure, she could sing it, but would it make much sense?  The best Cherubinos, like the best Susannas, perform the role simply and cleanly, finding small, meaningful ways to make the role their own.

Supporting roles fell even more victim to the simplistic characterization and humor that pervaded this re-staging. Conductor Andrew Davis wasn’t having a good night in the pit; piece after piece suffered from ensemble problems. In particular, Mr. Ketelsen seemed to disagree with his tempi and had the tendency to rush ahead, but even the chorus had a hard time staying with the orchestra in their small contributions. 

Bottom line: A starry cast, but a cloudy evening with a chance of showers.


John Costello



response to this review: response@operaticus.com

Production Credits

Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis
Original Production: Sir Peter Hall
Stage Director: Herbert Kellner
Designer: John Bury
Chorus Master: Donald Nally
Choreographer: Kenneth von Heidecke
Ballet Mistress: August Tye
Wigmaster and Makeup Designer: Richard Jarvie


Figaro: Kyle Ketelson
Susanna: Danielle de Niese
Countess: Amanda Majeski
Count: Mariusz Kwiecien
Cherubino: Joyce DiDonato
Marcellina: Lauren Curnow
Basilio: Keith Jameson
Bartolo: Andrea Silvestrelli
Barbarina: Angela Mannino
Antonio: Philip Kraus
Curzio: David Portillo