The production, staged by film and stage director Richard Eyre, is set in 1930s Spain. The Almaviva estate is now an intricate palace of Moorish detail and pattern. The stage revolves, illustrating the potency of concealment that drives the opera forward: during the Overture, we are afforded glimpses of the staff both inside and outside the palace as the stage slowly turns, establishing the set as a seeming maze of rooms, walls, passageways, and eavesdropping locations. Knowledge is currency in the opera, and the set reflects the libretto's dance of secrecy and reveal from the beginning. The set was gorgeous—and everything my apartment is not: spacious, beautifully lit, intricately decorated, furnished with servants instead of IKEA furniture.
In my opinion, the best thing about this production was the staging of the relationship between Count and Countess Almaviva, especially in the bedroom scene in Act II. The Count demands that the Countess unlock her closet to prove that her maid Susanna is inside (though Cherubino the page is actually hiding in there). In this production, the Count is physically violent with the Countess—grabbing her arms, shaking her, pushing her across the room. It was the first production I had seen where the Count is so frightening, and I was surprised.
Now, the Count is a definite sleazeball. It's in Da Ponte's libretto (see: Vedrò mentre io sospiro; the recitative of Dove Sono) and it's certainly in the Beaumarchais play. What has always seemed odd to me is the gentle treatment of the Count in numerous productions—none of them completely hide his adulterous, hot-tempered nature, but they do seem to play it down (my colleague described it this way: "He's always kind of a jerk [in other productions of the opera], but in the Met's production he's a majorly gross guy"). The Count comes off as a misguided philanderer who just needs to be forgiven for getting confused. Now that he's got his priorities back in order, everyone can ride off into the sunset.
But that's not the Count of Beaumarchais's play or Da Ponte's libretto. Why is it that Count Almaviva gets a coat of glossy paint, intended to glide over the unsavory edges present in the text? I think it's partly because operas, historically, seem less incendiary than their spoken-word counterparts (Beaumarchais's play was banned, but Mozart's opera was very popular with the aristocracy. See also Hugo's Le roi s'amuse/Verdi's Rigoletto for another example). However, I also think Mozart's place in the popular mindset might have something to do with it. He's considered a musical genius, a child prodigy. His position in the Western Canon isn't budging an inch. His music is beautiful, beloved, and approachable—for many of us, it's our entry point into Classical Music, whether it's through piano lessons, grade school music classes, Intro to Music Theory college courses, or the first piece anyone ever plays in middle school orchestra. His phrases are perfect; his melodies, eminently singable; his harmonic structure, highly diatonic. We cut our musical teeth with Mozart and move on to darker, more "difficult" music. He is left in our memories as innocence, easy resolution, levity. We want him to stay that way in our present, and a wife-beating Count Almaviva has no place in that type of recollection.
At the end of Nozze, the Countess forgives the Count. For most sugar-coated productions, all the loose ends are tied up and everyone goes home happy. The scene of forgiveness at the end of the Met's production did not feel that way to me—instead, I saw the perpetuation of domestic abuse and was reminded of this: http://www.eonline.com/news/577285/why-i-stayed-why-i-left-twitter-confessions-tell-the-real-heartbreaking-story-of-domestic-abuse. The Met's choreography was a timely commentary on the tangled nature of human relationships. They put a complicated, real relationship onstage—one that might make you uncomfortable to watch, but one that reflects the struggles of people in similar situations all over the world—and they didn't try to hide the repugnant aspects of the Count's behavior.
The Met's Count Almaviva finally got close to the man described in the play and libretto, and in doing so, reminded us that Mozart has teeth. His operas depict human life and relationships with just as much emotional depth as any composer to follow him. Masking or dialing down these aspects of his pieces certainly does him no justice; and we are deprived of the beautiful complexity of his work. The Mozart of our memories should become the Mozart of our nows, challenging us, making us feel—because after all, isn't that what art is supposed to do?