NEW YORK (AP) — After a summer of uncertainty, the sounds of discord gave way to joyful music-making as the Metropolitan Opera opened its season Monday night with a sparkling new production of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro."
Just two months ago, it looked as though the season might not open at all, since the financially struggling company had threatened to lock out its unions unless they agreed to substantial pay cuts in a new labor contract.
But a compromise averted a shutdown by the nation's largest performing arts organization, and the show went on, both inside the house and on giant screens set up for free viewing in the Lincoln Center plaza and in Times Square.
Not everything about opening night was harmonious, however. Across Broadway from the opera house, cordoned off behind police barricades, several hundred people representing Jewish groups waved signs and chanted to protest the Met's plans to stage John Adams's 1991 opera, "The Death of Klinghoffer."
It deals with the death of Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish passenger on the cruise ship Achille Lauro, in 1985. The ship was hijacked by Palestinians, who shot the disabled Klinghoffer in his wheelchair and threw him over board.
The demonstrators — many of whom acknowledged they had not seen the opera — claimed it glorifies terrorists and feeds anti-Semitic sentiment. The Met agreed several months ago to cancel an HD broadcast of the opera but is going ahead with its production later this fall.
Inside the house, dressy first-nighters, who paid as much as $1,750 for a ticket, filled the 3,800 seats to near-capacity. And for their money they got a memorable performance of Mozart's immortal comedy, led by music director James Levine, who was conducting his first opening night since being felled by a series of health problems. Now relying on a motorized wheelchair, he waved enthusiastically to the audience from his podium and led the orchestra in a lithe, elegant reading of the score.
The fast-paced production, directed by Richard Eyre, updates the action to Spain of the early 1930s and uses a gold filigree revolving set by Rob Howell with what look like Moorish towers defining the castle where Figaro works as a manservant for Count Almaviva. The youthful cast, headed by bass-baritone Ildar Abdrazakov as Figaro and soprano Marlis Petersen as his fiancee, Susanna, dug into their roles with gusto and sang with style.
Making a high-pressure debut as a late substitute for an indisposed colleague, American soprano Amanda Majeski started a bit shaky but grew stronger as the night progressed, displaying a soft-grained, slightly tremulous voice that nicely conveyed the Countess's vulnerability.
This season is the first in four years not to feature Russian diva Anna Netrebko on opening night, but she'll make up for that with a vengeance when she stars as Lady Macbeth in Verdi's adaptation of Shakespeare on Wednesday night. The opening week also offers Puccini's "La Boheme" and Bizet's "Carmen."
"Figaro" plays nine more times with the same cast, including an HD broadcast to movie theaters worldwide on Oct. 18. Then it returns with a different cast for five more performances in December.