When Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s new production of Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” was unveiled at the Metropolitan Opera last December, one critic labeled it “overbearing,” citing the massiveness of the sets and the size of the physical production as anathema to the composer’s human scale and musical characterizations.

In the “Live from the Met” broadcast to be shown tonight on KCET Channel 28 (7:30 to 11 p.m.) and on Channels 15, 24 and 50 (at 8 p.m.), size never becomes a problem.

Ponnelle’s sets do look cavernous and deep; in the theater, they may indeed tend to swallow up the characters. On the small screen, however, the singers’ faces, their dramatic interactions, plus textual and vocal nuances--all are delivered without strain on the part of the observer.

And this cast, achieving Ponnelle’s eminently sensible and detailed staging with ease, and supported with Mozartean brio and fluency by Met music director James Levine and his solid pit band, also delivers without strain. (Sung in Italian, the performance, videotaped Dec. 14, 1985, is subtitled in English.)


The producer has accomplished one remarkable oddity: He seems to have provided more light on the stage in Act IV (which should be dark), than in Acts I through III. Perhaps that is a comment on human self-delusion and “seeing things clearly.” Unlike the stylized, but recognizably Spanish, palace rooms and decor, however, this lighting runs counter to our expectations of reality.

Balance and credibility mark the sung performances. Kathleen Battle (Susanna) and Carol Vaness (Countess) inhabit their roles with detailed characterizations, poised tone and musical authority throughout. Frederica von Stade’s cherishable, irresistible Cherubino remains the model of boyish charm and Mozartean completeness.

Ruggero Raimondi’s faceted, vocally attractive Figaro reminds us that this opera began its life as a revolutionary tract; Thomas Allen’s frustrated Count provides a handsome-sounding counterpoise. All the singers benefit from the richness and color of Ponnelle’s costume designs.