When the curtains opened this afternoon for Damiano Michieletto’s 2011 production of Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte for the New National Opera, the revolving set with a realistic forest gave me a feeling of déjà vu from Claus Guth’s Don Giovanni from Salzburg. But then I’ve remembered that Guth’s awful production was set inside a house where Don Alfonso had some sort of mesmeric power over the two young couples. The déjà vu happened again when this evening Don Alfonso had a similar episode of telekinesis by the end of the opera. Thank God the similarities ended there. Here we are in some sort of camping resort: Don Alfonso is the supervisor, Despina is the waitress, everybody else is a guest. Are you thinking of Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito’s Youth Hostel production from Amsterdam? Me too, but in the Nederlandse Opera, the sisters and her boyfriends were shown as teenagers whose inexperience accounted for many hard-to-believe plot twists.
Here, Fiordiligi and Dorabella are probably the most down-to-earth people on stage – they take good care of themselves, clean their own camper truck, hold well their liquor and drive themselves the “Albanian” (i.e., “biker gang”) fellows away, when they first “show up”. Why do they behave just like the précieuses imagined by Lorenzo da Ponte? Good question… I have tried hard to see the point behind setting the action in the camping resort, but I could find none other than the fact that Paolo Fantin’s sets and costumes are nice to look at. In his Don Giovanni for La Fenice, Michieletto offered many insights into Da Ponte’s characters in a psychological whirlwind of desire, repression and excess. Here the psychology is cardboard level. Some would say “better so – now he can just tell the story”. Really? Fiordiligi and Dorabella refer to portraits, uniforms, drinking glasses that exist only in their imagination (and in the libretto, but not on stage), Despina’s disguise as a notary would fool only a blind person, among many loose ends. When Don Alfonso starts to use magic powers to hypnotize the group of young people only to end the opera with evil laughs, the audience has already given up to find some sense in all this. To make things worse, in order to accommodate the directorial choices, both finali were trimmed of some good music composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (I won’t mention Fernando’s “difficult” opera, for this is an usual sin…).
Yves Abel is a theatrical conductor and also very kind to his cast – even when the tenor tried a tenuto on a high note, impairing the accompanying figures in the orchestra. His tempi were well chosen, vivid and coherent with the stage action, but the orchestra – kept on a leash to make these singers’ lives easier – could phrase with more clarity. A less pellucid tone would add a little bit more spark to the proceedings as well.
Miah Persson’s soprano too has seen brighter days. Now it can sound a bit tight, fluttery and metallic in its higher reaches, but – and considering the role’s formidable difficulties, this is a bit “but” – she does not cheat in florid passages, can sing piano when this is necessary (“mezza voce” would not be the right way to describe it though) and deals very commendable with the lower tessitura. She has very good sense of Mozartian style and is never careless with the text, but the voice itself has very little variety and, even if one hears her well, the results are small-scaled. Her Dorabella, Jennifer Holloway, took a while to warm, but once she reached performance level, offered a fruity mezzo, reasonable flexibility and a winning personality. If she really wants to sing Mozart, she still has to learn Italian and how to sing softer dynamics. Akie Amou has the attitude and the right Fach for Despina, but it seems that the days when the likes of Lucia Popp and Ileana Cotrubas were cast in this role are definitely over.
It is truly refreshing to find in Paolo Fanale a Ferrando with a thoroughly uncomplicated high register and whose vocal healthiness almost never stands between him and proper Mozart style, even if the tonal quality itself has more than a splash of Spieltenor in it. There is a great deal of harmonics in Dominik Köninger’s voice still to be discovered. So far, the sound is still pleasant but rather generic and unmemorable. Maurizio Muraro is a resonant, characterful but unexaggerated Don Alfonso. The cast has no weak link in what regards acting.
PS – On a second thought, there seem to be one development in terms of Personenregie in this staging – Ferrando and Guglielmo seem particularly coy but under the pretext of acting like the biker-gang Tizio and Sempronio, let loose their wild sides (including a homoerotic episode in their post-poisoning “mad scene”), what seems to have made them more sexually persuasive for the Fiordiligi and Dorabella. This could have had interesting results if we could see more clearly the effect of this transformation in their girlfriends. In any case, in order for the girls to have any sort of development (showing Dorabella in high heels… among the ferns of the camping resort is a very awkward solution), they should have had a very different starting point. At least, one that shouldn’t show them so self-aware in the first place.