Having touched bottom with last month’s witless staging of Rossini’s “The Italian Girl in Algiers,” the Los Angeles Opera has regained its footing. Its production of Mozart’s wise if cynical comedy of bed-as-battleground, with its music of almost unbearable beauty, is not new; it was first staged in 1988 and revived three seasons later, with fair-to-middling success. Third time around, everything works better than ever.
Despite the endless procession of ravishing solo numbers, the essence of Mozartian comedy lies in the ensembles and their interaction with the bubbling, mercurial orchestra. Even given a cast with no participant less than superb, the real hero here is German conductor Ingo Metzmacher, general music director-designate of the Hamburg State Opera, in his U.S. debut.
Tall and younger looking than his 39 years suggest, Metzmacher drew his cast and excellent small orchestra into a flawless, silken fabric. Nearly four hours of Mozart — at once joyous and heart-rending — went past like a single breath; but for a small tuck in a tenor aria that most productions omit entirely, the opera was given uncut. As the imperious but ultimately conquerable Fiordiligi, Swedish soprano Hillevi Martinpelto neatly negotiated the crags of her two killer arias; as Dorabella, Scottish soprano Marie McLaughlin projected the image of a character ridden with both guilt and delight at the discovery of her own vulnerability. Both singers appeared in their L.A. Opera debut, as did German tenor Michael Schade, a bright-voiced Ferrando. Italian baritone Claudio Desderi and English soprano Elizabeth Gale sang the cynical connivers Alfonso and Despina with proper gusto.
Alongside these splendid “international” participants, local hero Richard Bernstein, the sturdy, energetic Guglielmo, more than held his own. A product of an ongoing L.A. Opera commitment to the grooming of young singers, Bernstein has moved steadily from local bit parts to a Metropolitan Opera debut last fall to a busy worldwide schedule.
Sir Peter Hall’s original production has been recreated by Stephen Lawless — occasionally afflicted, however, with the large gathering of extraneous onstage hangers-on that turn solo arias into duets and duets into mob scenes and that has now become a cliche of “modern” stagecraft. John Bury’s unit set, its clutter framed in a series of crumbling stone archways, seems rather menacing against the glorious, Italianate warmth of the music. But one goes to Mozart operas not for the scenery but the intermix of drama and music, which are this time magnificently served.