Christie makes Met Opera debut in `Cosi fan tutte’

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NEW YORK (AP) - Now 65 years old, William Christie has been a well-known conductor for more than three decades, one of the proponents of Baroque music. Born in Buffalo and schooled at Harvard and Yale, he has lived in France for many years.

On Tuesday night, he finally made his Metropolitan Opera debut in a disjointed revival of Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte.” While there were many fine individual moments, the performance never came together.

The overture zoomed along at breakneck speed, which the Met orchestra managed with its usual elan. Ensembles sounded ragged, with Christie propelling the orchestra forward while the singers raced to keep up with various degrees of success. He conducted without a baton, and his focus appeared to be on the orchestra

On stage, soprano Danielle de Niese (the maid Despina) and baritone Nathan Gunn (Guglielmo) presented lively characterizations to go along with strong singing. The other parts came off as bland.

And at times, especially in the second act, the pace slowed to an uneasy crawl, as if the opening tempi had been forgotten.

The libretto, by Lorenzo Da Ponte, follows the Neapolitan sisters Fiordiligi (Miah Persson) and Dorabella (Isabel Leonard). Their fiancees’ friend, Don Alfonso (William Shimell) persuades Ferrando (Pavol Breslik) and Guglielmo to disguise themselves as “Albanians” as part of a bet, and exchange places and woo each other’s fiancee. With Despina’s prodding, Fiordiligi and Dorabella fall for the scam.

In a role sang by Cecilia Bartoli when Lesley Koenig’s production was new in 1996, de Niese commanded the stage with vivid expressions and a bright, lively soprano that provided much of the night’s spark.

Persson, who made her Met debut last year in Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier,” was riveting in “Come scoglio (Like a rock),” Fiordiligi’s first-act aria in which she resists Ferrando’s advances. But far too often the rest of the night moved along without taking off.

Leonard, a mezzo who also performed this role at the Salzburg Festival, sang with energy but struggled to make her character stand out in a traditional production that is starting to seem a little dated.

Breslik has a sweet tenor that sounded perfectly suited to Mozart. Shimell, a strong baritone, made Don Alfonso seem appropriately slimy without hamming it up.

Michael Yeargan’s sets, lit by Duane Schuler, are pretty and effective but need big personalities to fill them. Perhaps with additional performances, this group will come together. There are six more through Dec. 2.

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