‘Cosi fan tutte’: James Levine returns to the podium

levineThe performance of “Cosi fan tutte” on stage was wonderful, but the biggest ovation of the night at the Metropolitan Opera last Wednesday was before the show when music director James Levine returned to the podium.

Levine has been credited with building the company’s orchestra into a world class group apart from its function at the Met — the orchestra performs concerts on its own at Carnegie Hall most seasons — so the crowd was thrilled to see the man return after a serious back injury sidelined him for two years.

The Met constructed a special elevator to allow Levine and his wheel chair perfect positioning in front of the podium.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????“I was conscious of being glad that the orchestra had let me know during our rehearsals that they were excited and happy, because I wouldn’t have been able to continue with this work if they hadn’t been,” Levine told Matt Dobkin in a Playbill piece.

The standing ovation for Levine’s entrance set the tone for a thrilling performance of the Mozart comedy about testing the strength of romantic love.

Matthew Polenzani and Rodion Pogossov played Ferrando and Guglielmo who are so sure of the love of their fiances — Fiordiligi (Susanna Phillips) and Dorabella (Isabel Leonard, right) — that they enter into a hare-brained wager with the old cynic Don Alfonso (Maurizio Muraro) who believes women can be easily wooed, even when engaged.

The men pretend to march off to war, but quickly return in disguise to woo their ladies. The plot is thin — and the sexual attitudes archaic — but the music is so glorious that it can leave performers and an audience in a state of bliss.

That was certainly the case Wednesday night when, under Levine’s direction, the 1996 production looked and sounded newly minted. (The beautiful sets and costumes are by the Connecticut designer Michael Yeargan.)

It’s a long evening — a little over three and a half hours — but when can you ever have too much of a great thing?

(“Cosi fan tutte” has completed its run of fall performances, but will return to the Met’s repertory next April 23 for five performances with Levine conducting.)

Joe Meyers