[Met Performance] CID:183030

New Production

Le Nozze di Figaro
Metropolitan Opera House, Fri, October 30, 1959

Debut : Elisabeth Söderström, Kim Borg, Oliver Messel

Le Nozze di Figaro (171)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart | Lorenzo Da Ponte
Cesare Siepi

Elisabeth Söderström [Debut]

Count Almaviva
Kim Borg [Debut]

Countess Almaviva
Lisa Della Casa

Mildred Miller

Dr. Bartolo
Ezio Flagello

Regina Resnik

Don Basilio
Charles Kullman

Lawrence Davidson

Mildred Allen

Don Curzio
Gabor Carelli

Teresa Stratas

Joan Wall

Erich Leinsdorf

Oliver Messel [Debut]

John Butler

Le Nozze di Figaro received seventeen performances this season.
Photograph of Elisabeth Söderström as Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro by Louis Mélançon/Metropolitan Opera.

Production a gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller

Review 1:

Review of Robert Sabin in the November 15, 1959 issue of Musical America

High hopes had been cherished for the Metropolitan Opera's new production of "Le Nozze di Figaro," which had its first performance on Oct. 30, as a benefit for the Metropolitan Opera Guild. If they were only partially fulfilled, there was no question that a new setting was sadly needed and that the general freshening process which an opera undergoes in being entirely redone resulted in a lively performance. We should thank Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., for making it possible.

Oliver Messel had designed the sets and costumes, and (like every other element in this production) they were highly competent, if not really distinguished. The garden scene was charming. Here he achieved a sense of genuine objects and space with means that were functional. But the room of Act I was a huge, nondescript affair with some seedy-looking pots and pails and brooms in a corner and an impossible shelf about 30 feet high decked with even more impossible pottery. Everything looked as if it were, or actually was, painted. Acts II and III were also "easel sets," and the all-important doors of the Countess' boudoir gave signs of being about to cause trouble very shortly.

The costumes were pretty, especially the Countess' dress in Act III, but, compared with real works of art, such as Eugene Berman's "Don Giovanni" costumes, they could not be called beautiful. Mr. Messel's ballet settings which we have seen here, were far more impressive than his "Figaro" designs. He seems more at home in ballet than in opera.

Even less at home in opera, at least in Mozart, was Cyril Ritchard, who had staged this classic masterpiece in a broad, almost Broadwayish style that clashed with the music and was wholly out of keeping with the Beaumarchais-da Ponte libretto, which is high, not low, comedy. Mr. Ritchard is himself a brilliant comedian and a very musical man, but he has gone wrong completely and (oddly enough) in a naive way in this production.

No sooner do Figaro and Susanna describe the summons of their master and mistress than they dash to the chair and enact a sleepy awakening and bell-pulling. A line hung with frilly underclothes dominates the first act set and, of course, has to be let down and fiddled with, when our attention should be centered on the music. The peasants' chorus in Act I is ruined by a sort of football rush, engineered with semaphoric signals from Figaro. The Countess flirts with Churbino more in the style of a chambermaid than a noblewoman; and she is called upon to fidget with a quill pen in the midst of one of her most beautiful arias. Don Bartolo whistles like a street urchin.

I could go on heaping up instances of the crudity of this staging, but the point is sufficiently clear. Mr. Ritchard should tone it down immediately.

Erich Leinsdorf's conducting was far more satisfactory, but neat and technically admirable as it was, it did not reveal the warm humanity and exquisite musical sensibility of this divine music as have the interpretations of Stiedry, Walter, and other profounder Mozartians at the Metropolitan.

Two of the leading singers in the cast made their debuts with the company in this performance. Elisabeth Soederstroem was a delightful Susanna in every respect. Her bright, flexible voice was always dependable and she proved to be a resourceful actress. One of the most impressive indications of her artistry was the fact that her singing in the ensembles was just as finished as it was in her solo arias. Her Italian, if not crystalline, was rhythmically organized in its accents. Miss Soederstroem should be just as attractive (perhaps even more so) in Verdi, Puccini, and Strauss roles.

Kim Borg, who sang the role of Count Almaviva, will unquestionably do himself greater honor in other roles. He had vigor and assurance, of course, but his singing and acting lacked the elegance, the polish, and the subtlety so necessary to this music. And Mr. Ritchard kept him striding all over the stage in his great aria in Act III, in a manner that would have killed any finer dramatic nuances, in any case. His Italian, too, was all but unintelligible.

Teresa Stratas and Joan Wall, who had made their debuts with the company in "Manon" earlier in the week, sang the music of the two Peasant Girls prettily, if too lightly.

Charles Kullman took the role of Don Basilio for the first time at the Metropolitan, and I am sorry to say that this excellent actor and experienced artist sang so hoarsely and loudly that he spoiled every ensemble in which he took part! Whether he was suffering from a cold, or had to sing out to be sure of control, or had been told to do so, he should by all means cut down his voice to nothing in future performances rather than half-shout the part.

Neither Lisa Della Casa nor Mildred Miller were quite at their silken best, vocally, but one could not quarrel with so winning a Countess and Cherubino, both Mozartian to their fingertips. Cesare Siepi's Figaro is most winning in its elan and Mediterranean lightheartedness. His voice, a shade gritty at first, smoothened as the evening progressed. There is no need to recapitulate the excellences of Regina Resnik's Marcellina or of Ezio Flagello's Don Bartolo. Gabor Carelli was a comical Don Curzio (and the horsing was Mr. Ritchard's doing, not his). And the same was true of Lawrence Davidson's Antonio. As Barbarina, Mildred Allen sang her "Pin" aria and other music beautifully.

John Butler's choreography for the festivities in the Great Hall is fussy, vulgar, and out of style, but the ballet danced it admirably.

And last, but not least, let me end this

Review 2:

Review on a note of praise. For the secco recitatives a harpsichord was used! And it was played by Jan Behr, who knew what he was doing. Now, if Mr. Leinsdorf will reduce the orchestra to Mozartian proportions, we shall all be happy.

Photograph of Elisabeth Söderström as Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro by Louis Mélançon/Metropolitan Opera.

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