Posts Tagged ‘Mozart’s Così fan tutte’

Although Mozart’s operas are considered to be central to the repertoire of every opera house, this does not seem to apply to their casts. When one reads the archives of the world’s most important theatres, one will find operas like Così fan tutte featuring singers like Kiri Te Kanawa, Frederica von Stade, Francisco Araiza or Ferruccio Furlanetto long after they were international stars. For some reason, those who would like to hear the world’s best singers in roles like Fiordiligi or Ferrando will need to resort to recordings like Colin Davis’s to know the sensation of hearing Montserrat Caballé and Nicolai Gedda dueting in Fra gli amplessi.

As it is, the team gathered by the Bavarian State Opera for this evening’s performance of Così fan tutte is quite above average for today’s standards. For instance, the lovely Golda Schultz offers a lesson in Mozartian singing in her impeccable phrasing, very long breath, beautiful pronunciation of the Italian language and real commitment to the text and dramatic situations. Moreover, her lyric soprano is all velvety and soars in effortless high notes. In a theatre the size of which Mozart saw his operas staged, she would leave nothing to be desired. But this is a voice that does not count with reserves of projection when a high (or low) note REALLY has to pierce through an orchestra in to the auditorium. I do have the impression that the sceneries without backdrop and open on the side must make things even more difficult to these singers. Her Dorabella, Rachael Wilson has a fruity yet finely focused mezzo that blossoms comfortably in her high notes and still retains resonance in her bottom range. Now and then she would hit the wrong notes, but one would blame a natural ebullience that has compensations in terms of acting. The blend of these two singers’ voices was the speacial featuring of this performance. Never in my experience, I’ve heard two sings float their high pianissimi in moments like Soave sia il vento as beautifully and integratedly as they have done tonight. Tara Erraught too is a mezzo with no problem with high notes. She can lighten her tone and even sound convincingly soubrettish, but the tonal quality is too grainy and even matronly in her middle register. This – and the fact that her Italian is artificial – prevented her from offering a truly valid performance in the key role of Despina.

Mauro Peter is one of the rare tenors today who seem happy to follow all the basic rules of Mozartian phrasing, but he is also the kind of tenor whose high register seems to spin backwards rather than forward from the passaggio up. Although he handles high-lying phrases (and passagework) effortlessly, the sound has very little chest resonance and brightness. Michael Nagy did not seem to be in a very good day, but that did not prevent him from offering a stylish Guglielmo, easy on the ear. Christopher Maltman’s forceful Alfonso involved a great deal of parlando effects, but he is the kind of singer who can always count on his charisma.

After an extremely cautious overture, Ivor Bolton seemed keen on trying to compensate by rushing his singers in a way that suggested insufficient rehearsal time. The level of mismatch between singers (including those of the chorus) and the orchestra was almost alarming for an important opera house, not to mention the mistakes. In order to adjust to a light-voiced cast, the orchestra was kept under leash in a way that tampered with clarity and often went beyond to the realms of the inexpressive. This is one of my favorite operas, but after Per pietà, I caught myself checking my watch every now and then.

Dieter Dorn’s 1993 staging is far more satisfying than his take on Le Nozze di Figaro for the same theatre. The sets – that could look less wobbly – are pleasant to look at and, although the original personenregie has been replaced by an assemblage of stock gestures, the whole cast scored high in the acting department and won over the audience in its sincere engagement.

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Before I write that this is my first visit to the legendary Bolshoi Theatre, an eventual Russian reader might observe that I have never actually been in the Bolshoi, for the true venue of this performance of Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte is the “New Stage”, an annex to the old building just across the street. Dutch director Floris Visser’s production was premiered there only this year (according to the program, the actual première of Così in the old stage took place only in 1978…). Mr. Visser is a new name to me and, although his interview (also in the program) suggested something far more ambitious than what one ultimately sees, this staging is particularly noteworthy for its direction: the stage action is meticulously conceived, convincingly carried out by young and skilled singers and costumes, sets and use of stage contraptions is imaginative and always pleasing to the eyes.

If the director’s thesis, i.e.,  this opera is essentially a tragedy with comedy touches does not really work, this must have to do with the fact that the musical side of the performance was essentially very inexpressive. I was actually tempted to call it perfunctory – but this would be inaccurate. Conductor Stefano Montanari claims to have a background in historically informed performances, but acknowledges that it would be unpractical to have a period-instrument band duty in an opera house. In any case, the Bolshoi orchestra must be praised by its willingness to embrace an “authentic” approach – strings with very limited vibrato, woodwind presiding the orchestral sound, an overbusy fortepiano and fussy handling of tempo. I would have enjoyed many of the conductor’s interesting ideas – the mirroring of the overture’s pace in the stretta of Come Scoglio, for instance, was quite revelatory or the way the military chorus, made slower than usual, had all its illustrative effects “spoken” rather than “painted” (to use Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s terminology), but the sad truth is that the overall impression was rather disjointed, often awkward, strings poorly articulated, an amazing level of mismatch with every soloist, for catastrophic results in Soave sia il vento. In these circumstances, Mozart’s and Da Ponte’s expressive powers were very occasionally only hinted at.

Truth be said, although the cast was most efficient in the acting department, the singing itself was unfortunately variable. Anna Kraynikova’s basic tonal quality is extremely apt for the role of Fiordiligi. Her creamy, shimmering soprano is appealing and pleasant and nature gave her the range and the flexibility (but not trills) for it. However, the technique is not up to the task: her breath support is faulty, she is too often off steam in the end of phrases, her coloratura has bumpy moments and her approach to mezza voce is hit-or-miss. The beautiful Alexandra Kadurina has a truly interesting mezzo: it is firm, clean, warm but not overdark in its low reaches and occasionally ductile even in high tessitura. At moments, she sounds like a world-class Dorabella, in others she can be a little blowsy, rather metallic and sometimes just rough. If she can see to these drawbacks, there will be nothing between her and a great career. Alina Yaroyava (Despina) was probably the most finished female singer in the cast – the tonal quality is pleasing, her Italian is vivid and she has the low notes without which the role sounds incomplete. However, she is too often careless about her phrasing, with some gusty passages, forced high notes and some moments of dubious intonation. Her disguise as the notary was extremely well-handled.

The men proved to be altogether more reliable. Yuri Gorodetsky (Ferrando) is an extremely dependable singer: he produces all his notes easily, clearly and a tempo. But that is pretty much it. The tone is a bit dusky in the middle register but opens into rather nasal and glaring high notes, and his phrasing is blunt and without much affection. He was spared of some testing passages by the deletion of Dal fato dal legge, Ah, lo vegg’io and Tutto, tutto, o vita mia in the finale ultimo. Alexander Miminoshvili,on the other hand, was a winning Guglielmo, dulcet-toned and spirited. Last but not least, Nikolai Kanansky was a powerful, rich-toned Don Alfonso, who could have done with a lighter touch in the trio with the sopranos.

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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. 

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In the context of a program called “Festival Mozart”, which featured an Idomeneo last year, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées has invited French conductor Jérémie Rhorer for a Così Fan Tutte staged by Eric Génovèse, a member of the Comédie-Française. This last information is of some relevance if someone has seen any staging of classical plays in the venerable institution in Paris. Sets and costumes are elegant and functional in an almost neutral manner – actors take pride of place in order to show their almost formulaic impeccable technique and even the more relaxed moments seem somehow calculated. So it was this evening. This description may suggest boredom, but no – its charms might be a tad bureaucratic, yet pleasing in an undemanding way. Especially with a cast so adept in the acting department.

The conductor has an important share in this performance’s effectiveness. Rhorer is an alert Mozartian, keen on athletic yet spontaneous rhythms, clarity and expressive phrasing. It is just a pity that his orchestra, Le Cercle de l’Harmonie lacks a more rounded sound – violins were particularly recessed (even for someone in a seat close to first violins, such as I had this evening). This alone has spoiled a great deal of the fun for me, and my mind was often busy filling in the blanks left by the orchestra. That said, I couldn’t help imagining how this would sound with, say, the Vienna Philharmonic. Even under those circumstances, some moments sounded truly original. Despina disguised as the notary read her contract in fascinating interplay with the orchestra, such as I had never heard before, for instance.

I had seen Camilla Tilling only once as Susanna in Munich. Then I found her rather small-scale and have read that she would be this evening’s Fiordiligi with misgivings. Soon to be dispelled. Although the voice is light for the role, she sang it with dexterity – creamy tone, crystal-clear divisions and plausible low notes. She has natural feeling for Mozartian phrasing, and only a reluctance to float mezza voce, a difficulty with trills and some effort that passed for emphasis when her voice could not supply more volume stood between her and success. Michèle Losier is a gifted actress, but her voice lacks a distinctive quality necessary to bring Dorabella to the fore. Claire Debono was a vivacious Despina, a metallic edge in her voice notwithstanding.

Bernard Richter has a pleasing natural voice, more German in style than what we tend to hear in this role these days. He can sound a bit nasal now and then. He certainly knows Mozartian style, but wasn’t truly at ease in Un aura amorosa. Markus Werba was a solid, not very mellifluous Guglielmo and Pietro Spagnoli was a firm-toned, funny yet menacing Don Alfonso.

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René Jacobs’s incursion in the field of Mozart operas has started with Così fan tutte and has met with wide critical acclaim. I have to confess that I felt alone in my lack of affection for these recordings – glassy and unclear orchestral playing, inorganic approach to rhythm, fancy for overdecoration, exotic casting and the intrusive fortepiano continuo largely to blame. That said, a sense of development can be felt – his recording of Le Nozze di Figaro is somewhat more polished and that of Don Giovanni has many powerful moments, while La Clemenza di Tito is a recording one has to appreciate and finally Idomeneo goes to the short-list in this opera’s discography (I am not so sure about Die Zauberflöte, though). It makes one wonders why the first work in the series is the first to be revisited.

The first information to stand out about this performance is that the new cast features singers who have become close collaborators of the Belgian conductor, but the truth is that it was hardly this evening’s memorable feature, which would be rather René Jacobs himself. Rarely have I witnessed a conductor whose own view of a work has matured so fast and so profoundly. I do not mean that the new Così does not sound like a René Jacobs performance. It does: the abrupt change of pace in the middle of numbers, the fancy for decoration, the vigorous rhythms, they are all there, but now they do sound like a natural means of expression of the score rather than mannerisms that only call attention to themselves. The immediate good surprise was a newly found sense of respect for the natural rhythmic flow where even the swift acc. and rit. effects proved to be consequent and musically/dramatically justified. Other than this there was the all-important sensuous orchestral sound largely absent in Jacobs’s early Mozart opera recordings. This evening, the Freiburger Barockorchester offered rich, clear and expressive sounds throughout. The transparence of ensembles, the neatness of rapid divisions both in woodwind and strings, the sense of story-telling and the perfect balance between singers and orchestra are an evidence of the adept Mozartian Jacobs has ultimately become. It is a pity that the old performance rather than this one been preserved for posterity.

In any case, if the old recording has an advantage, this would be the the euphonious and technically polished casting of singers like Véronique Gens or Bernarda Fink. Although this evening’s singers could be considered more theatrically engaged and the sense of team more vivid, none of them offered the nec plus ultra in Mozartian singing. Alexandrina Pendatchanska did not seem to be in a good-voice day and gave the impression of being nervous (even if she has actually taken roles more technically exacting than Fiordiligi in her career). Although her bottom register is usually generous, she seemed cautious about diving into the lower end of her range, while the voice sounded distinctively less bright than usual, especially in its high register. Sometimes she sank into background in ensembles, especially while singing coloratura. Nevertheless, she tackled very fast divisions accurately, even facing fast tempi in the strette of both her arias and had no problem with singing very high mezza voce. She has the interpretative and emotional resources for the role (her recitatives were particularly convincing), but the lack of a nobler tonal quality made her Fiordiligi short in vulnerability and touchingness. On the other hand, Marie-Claude Chappuis’s reedy mezzo is extremely appealing and she is stylish, musicianly and sensitive. It is only a pity that she fails to girare la voce, as Italians use to say, making her high notes tense and hard. Sunhae Im has everything in her favour to be an excellent Despina, but  for the voice for the role. Although her soprano is all right quicksilvery as a soubrette’s should be, the part is in on the low side for her. As a result, she could barely pierce through in the lower reaches and the tonal quality lacked the sexiness she had to produce rather by inflection and attitude.

Magnus Staveland clearly knows Mozartian style and never fails in good taste and elegance, but his tenor lacks stronger support in a role the tessitura of which is basically high. He was often overshadowed in ensembles, did not really project his top notes, too often shifted to falsetto or sounded grey and unflowing in more exposed high-lying passages. The deletion of Ah, lo vegg’io came  as no surprise and Tradito, schernito was all about difficulty. Johannes Weisser’s clear baritone is far more pleasant and generous, but it seems that he is one of those singers whose facility is finally an obstacle to optimal results. It is true that the sound was never less than pleasing, but one had the impression that he only really “placed his voice” when things became really low or required more thrust. When this happens, he does sound like a baritone – and a particularly rich-toned one – but that happens unfortunately very infrequently. Marcos Fink’s voice is a bit low for Don Alfonso, but he is an experient and resourceful singer who knows how to sound at ease, even when he is not.

Calling this performance a semi-staged concert is an understatement. Although there were no sets and costumes, some props were used and stage action had no interruption. Singers exited and entered the stage as in a fully-staged event. Although the program does not mention any director, the proceedings were actually very well directed and the cast made a very good job out of it, especially Sunhae Im, a brilliant comedy actress. Even the choristsers from the Coro Gulbekian proved to have acting skills in a most entertaining evening.

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In “Who betrays Elizabeth Bennet?”, Prof. John Sutherland (no relation to La Stupenda) dedicates himself to explain loose ends in the plot of famous books in English literature not by considering them small blunders in otherwise “perfect” works, but rather as puzzles to be solved and thus enriching the understanding of the story. Although Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto is hardly considered a literary work of some depth, Così fan tutte is arguably his best collaboration with Mozart.

Many of those who dislike Mozart believe that his music is just cold divertissement, an illustration of vacuous grace and elegance. I don’t want to accuse these people of trying to find on stage the excitement lacking elsewhere in their lives, but a short glance in Mozart’s and Da Ponte’s biographies show that their own lives were far from angelic and often full with violent feelings and emotions. Mozart’s letters to his mother particularly emotionally mature for a boy of his age, rich with touching and sensitive remarks. Classical art intended to provide mankind with a balsam for the tempest of emotions and violence that plagues ordinary life by means of images of perfection provided by the balance of reason. And no other composer offered better than Mozart such idealized visions of perfect proportion, of l’art qui cache l’art so accurately conceived that one cannot see the hand of the artist in it. Some end on attributing its inscrutable beauty to divine inspiration or – worse – to mere chance. But don’t mistake my words – this is only a first impression. Actually, although Mozart was no revolutionary, the reason why we still listen to his music instead of that of Salieri or Paisiello is that he actually spent his whole creative life bending, distorting, adapting these conventions. I would dare to say that Mozart gradually ceased to believe in the artistic credo of Classical art, as his final works increasingly show – and Così fan tutte is the work in which he put his own convictions to test.

The whole concept of Così fan tutte turns around the Classical idea of “right proportion”. An old philosopher who sings no aria leads two couple of twittering, trilling love birds with unrealistic notions about love and shows them that reality is far more exciting if far less comfortable than their world of sentimentality. It is important to note that Don Alfonso does not promise Gugielmo and Ferrando happiness, only discernment. In order to illustrate this evolution, Mozart composed a score that parodies, that exaggerates, that overstates and gradually acquires a matter-of-fact quality that speaks in more truly emotional colours. You just have to compare Come Scoglio and Per pietà, Smanie implacabili and È amore un ladroncello and Un’aura amorosa and Tradito, schernito to see the remarkable maturing in every character (but for Guglielmo, who remains more or less immune to the lesson) – the early affectation is finally replaced by real contradictory feelings. In the end, devastated by these revelations, the four of them do not seem convinced that the trade-off was positive. Despina has never lived the sweet fantasy her mistresses used to live – she gets her commission in the end.

Back to puzzles, I have observed that a most important detail is overlooked by almost every commenter. Although Fiordiligi and Dorabella are not aristocrats (as Don Alfonso is), they seem to be eligible young unmarried women of some wealth. The strange thing about the situation is that the plot does not explain who is in charge of them. Two young ladies of some position would hardly travel alone as Fiordiligi and Dorabella, especially if two young suitors are involved. My first conclusion is that they probably lost their mother when they were very young. This would account for her absence and for their naiveté (Despina is actually quite puzzled about their ignorance of worldly matters). If there were a father, he would have probably entrusted them to a chaperon or some sort of relation to accompany them in their trip (as the libretto explains, the ladies come from Ferrara and are visiting Naples). I would understand such a situation as an emergency, they are probably on their way to encounter their guardian (in the case they have also lost their father, which could be the case since they do not feel they need his consent to marry the “Albanians”) or hosting relatives. Also, if Ferrando and Guglielmo are wooing these respectable ladies, they should have understood themselves that their irregular situation in Ferrara is ill-advised. Unless the person in charge of them is indeed there in Ferrara. And the only character on stage respectable enough for this position is no other than… Don Alfonso. This explains his freedom to appear in the girls’ apartments without any formality, his previous knowledge of Despina’s character and his right to speak of the girls’ behavior with their fiancés.

The hypothesis of seeing in Don Alfonso Fiordiligi and Dorabella’s guardian at first does not go with one line in the libretto: “Non son essi: è Don Alfonso, l’amico lor”. The girls are expecting their fiancés, but it is Don Alfonso who shows up. Dorabella says “Not them, but their friend Don Alfonso”. This does not mean that they know Don Alfonso via their fiancés, but only that instead of them, they are seeing their friend. My last assumption: the friend who probably introduced the young men to the two girls just a few days ago in Ferrara. That is why they have their miniatures in their first scene – they had probably first seen Guglielmo and Ferrando in these miniatures and now they have finaly seen them in person. This thesis accounts for their lack of familiarity with them and their difficulty to recognize them in disguise (I know, it is still hard to believe…) and for the fact that the young men cannot quite explain why they trust the girls in their opening scene.

The subtitle of Così Fan Tutte is “The School for Lovers” and it would be interesting that a cynic like Don Alfonso is charged to marry his two mystified wards to two impressionable young men. Foreseeing catastrophe in these young people’s high-flown sentimentality, he prefers to teach them a bit about life before they become husbands and wives. Is this too benign an explanation? Maybe, I am not entirely convinced myself, but the question remains – what were these girls doing alone in Naples? If you have ever been in Naples, you know that this is no rhetorical question!

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Although Tokyo’s Suntory Hall is a vineyard-style concert-hall, as much as its source of inspiration (the Philharmonie in Berlin), it has decided to give staged opera a try. As in Berlin’s most notable example (Abbado’s Il Viaggio a Reims), the prestigious Japanese hall has decided to avoid tragedy and launched in 2008 a Mozart-Da Ponte series. I was able to witness the last installment.

Director Gabriele Lavia has the stage placed right in the middle of the hall, with the orchestra behind it and has ensured that those seated behind and on the sides were able to have some scenes staged facing them too. Although I am not crazy about the art-nouveau-like mirrors through which entrances and exits were made, the sets looked rather elegant in the pale colours of wicker furniture and white fabrics. I am not so sure about the numerous extras in commedia dell’arte-style costumes – although the choreographies and changes of set were nimbly performed, sometimes I felt that their presence in scenes which were supposed to be intimate was unnecessary. Maybe if they interacted with the cast in less collective a manner, the effect would be less cumbersome. In any case, Lavia is a great director for actors, who profited of the personalities of each member of the cast and produced a lightly funny, flowing and pleasant stage action.

It has been a while since I have last seen such a spontaneous performance of a Mozart opera – and conductor Nicola Luisotti is a central piece of this concept. He obviously loves the score and lovingly conducts it: all rhythms flow naturally, all dramatic effects are played without tampering with forward movement, clarity abounds, woodwind blends with soloists beautifully. This is exemplary Mozart conducting and Tokyoites were lucky to have all three Da Ponte operas conducted by Mr. Luisotti. Although the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra lacked the last ounce of brilliance and nonchalance, their playing was never less than accurate, polished and energetic. All solos, including French horn in Per pietà were perfectly performed. I am not sure how authentic the idea of having the continuo alternately played by fortepiano, harpsichord and theorbo (plus the cello) is, but Luisotti (who played the fortepiano himself) made these choices sensibly and the effect was quite interesting.

Serena Farnocchia has an ideal voice for Mozart – her soprano is bright, elegant and flexible and she has fluent divisions and beautiful pianissimo. You may be asking yourself why you have not heard from her before then. The answer is a certain lack of discipline that stands between her and complete success. She is the kind of singer who will cheat in the least difficulty if she believes she will get away with it without everyone noticing. As a result, many a top note in ensembles was rather hinted at than truly sung, trills were left to imagination, awkward breath pauses were made and mezza voce was rather an obligation than a pleasure. That said, her tone is so pleasant, her diction is so crystal-clear and the natural use of her native Italian so rewarding that one finally surrenders to her artistry, even regretting that she is not a bit more hard-working. On the other hand, Nino Surguladze is entirely foreign to Mozartian singing. One can see that she tries to produce the most “instrumental”  quality available to her, but what she does is unfortunately not really sufficient. To make things worse, she seemed uncomfortable with the tessitura, both in its lower and higher ends. Davinia Rodriguez’ s quicksilvery soprano is tailor-made to Despina. Although hers is a very bright and high-placed voice, she has no problem with her bottom register, which is always forward and natural. She is also a very good comedy actress. It is only a pity that she got a bit lost in the middle of her second aria.

Among the men, bass Enzo Capuano takes pride of place with his spacious voice, excellent acting skills and charisma. As Guglielmo, Markus Werba seemed not to be in a very good evening – he lacked resonance in his lower register and failed to project his high notes. As a result, the decision to present Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo proved to be problematic. Francesco Demuro’s Ferrando also benefited from native Italian and also clear passagework. However, his tenor has too open a quality and finally sounds rather glaring than mellifluous. There is also some lachrymosity and uncertain intonation. As a result, Un’aura amorosa sounded a bit unseductive and Ah, lo veggio somewhat tentative. Although he is not a gifted actor by nature, the director found in him an endearing gawkiness that ensured many a funny moment in the evening.

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Some say Mozart’s Don Giovanni is the most fascinating of operas. I feel guilty to disagree: I simply cannot resist buying an extra Don Giovanni. But that is probably because I still believe one day the perfect conductor will find the perfect Donna Anna, the perfect Donna Elvira, the perfect Zerlina, the perfect Don Ottavio, the perfect Don Giovanni, the perfect Leporello and the perfect Commendatore and someone will realize that they ought to be recorded and in the day of that recording everybody is going to be in good voice, inspiring the orchestra to impassionate playing. But the truth is that I find that Così fan tutte is Mozart and Da Ponte’s absolute masterpiece and, in its apparently lightness, a neverending source of insights about theatre, music and the human nature.

Most people consider the closing scene of Così fan tutte extremely disturbing – there is no redemption for characters whose mistakes we perfectly sympathize with. I remember many conversations about that, in which I resisted the idea that this was a comedy with a depressing ending. I used to say that the key to understand Così is its subtitle “the school for lovers” – in the sense that Fiordiligi and Guglielmo’s and Dorabella and Ferrando’s relationship were engagements of convenience (made palatable by the fact that they were all young, good-looking and wealthy people) and Don Alfonso’s experiment obliged them to descend from their well-established pedestals and face the unpredictabilities of truly falling in love. In that sense, Ferrando would soon discover in Fiordiligi his soulmate, while Guglielmo and Dorabella would find each other hard to resist. Mozart’s score even supported this line of interpretation – is it not true that Fiordiligi and Ferrando’s lines become increasingly more and more similar during the opera? That theory does not however explain what happens when Alfonso reveals the whole scheme and tells them to get over the whole thing – after all “they were engaged”. If Fiordiligi is supposed to leave her newly-found kindred spirit Ferrando for Guglielmo – that would be indeed a sad ending. My own private idea was that the original couples would be restored but after their weddings the whole Naples would gossip about those sisters who had suspicious relationships with their brothers-in-law.

However, while watching the new Glyndenbourne video, it occurred to me that Ferrando is actually being sincere in Tradito, schernito. In this sense, it is him and Dorabella the two characters who experiment significant development during the opera. He discovers that – notwithstanding the fact that his beloved has none of the qualities he used to pray in a woman – it is her the one he loves. This is basically what the last lines in the opera mean: “fortunate those who are able to use reason to deal with the events in his life; he will find a matter for laughter in subjects that make others weep and will always enjoy perfect peace”. In other words – if you always use reason in your personal affairs, you’ll never be a victim of passions and your life will be a perfectly balanced row of peaceful days. In the eve of Romanticism, one might perfectly ask – who would want that? That is exactly what Dorabella discovers: it is better to surrender to passion and enjoy her life than being a well-behaved melancholic creature. In this sense, she is also actually being sincere in L’amore è un ladroncello.

It is no coincidence that both Ferrando and Dorabella have grandiloquent first arias (the hysterical Smanie implacabili and the almost childishly naive Un’aura amorosa) only to throw wigs and protocol to the airs and speak bluntly in their last arias. On the other hand, Fiordiligi begins as formidably as she ends and Guglielmo skates in the surface of events from note one to the fine in the last page of the score.

Of course, all that is idle writing – only to explain why I have changed my mind and now believe that the return to the original couples is not entirely sad – Ferrando and Dorabella have learnt something from the lesson taught by Don Alfonso and Despina – if you are in control of your feelings for someone, you don’t really love him or her – while Fiordiligi and Guglielmo are only shocked about themselves (she disappointed with her own vincibility and he disappointed with his replaceability) and will probably pursue their engagement out of convenience (exactly as in the beginning of the opera). On having a couple who has learnt the lesson and other who has not, the classical structural balance is preserved and the character of the experiment acquires a certain “scientific” character.

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James Levine’s credentials as a Mozartian are widely acknowledged. In his hands, the score of a Mozart opera is given the apparently incompatible virtues of suppleness and rhythmic propulsion – all of that dictated by a deep knowledge of theatre, what is of paramount importance in the drammi giocosi by Da Ponte. In this sense, Levine’s perfect understand of shifting in moods is admirable. It is true that a sculptor needs the right marble – and in Levine’s case this is the Vienna Philharmonic, as his rightly famous recordings prove. Although the Met’s orchestra is sincerely dedicated to its maestro, it is undeniable that Mozart exuberant passagework is still hard work for string players. That said, Levine is the kind of conductor who helps his musicians to make their best – and his cast should certainly appreciate that, especially in the trickiest passages, where his beat always came handy in order to give them time to breathe or to develop a line without making violence to the flow of phrasing. In this sense, Lesley Koenig’s production is also most welcome in its unobtrusiveness and elegance. Only director Robin Guarino should bear in mind that this kind of comedy is the one you smile rather than laugh with. This can be particularly bothersome when a particularly difficult roulade or trill is shadowed by the audience’s hilarity.

Barbara Frittoli’s vocal production these days is not immediately compatible with Mozartian repertoire. And that is not because she has poor technique, but rather because her technique is a bit unconventional. The tone has a certain veiled quality that takes to mezza voce almost automatically. One could point out that she is also over-reliant on that ability in order to get away with the most difficult points, where her clean divisions are always a blessing. In any case, once you adjust to her exotic velvety shadowy and ultimately sexy sound, her Fiordiligi is definitely appealing. Unlike most exponents of the part, Frittoli is a sunny only half-serious girl, more practical and ready to some entertainment than we are used to see.

The lovely Magdalena Kozena was a perky Dorabella, sung in her oboe-like flexible high mezzo and a powerful amount of imagination and charm. Although these sisters’ voices were nicely contrasted, the blending in her duets was simply admirable. More than that, it is praiseworthy that Kozena sounded almost as idiomatic as her Italian colleague. The result was crispy recitatives and a sense of true interaction between both artists.

Alternating Fenton with Ferrando may be a feat in itself, but it may have had something to do with the time Matthew Polenzani needed to focus his high register for Mozartian needs. Because of that, Un’aura amorosa sounded uncomfortable and uninspiring. However, act II revealed the American tenor at his best. Both Ah, lo vegg’io and Tradito, schernito were sung with golden liquid tone even in the exposed high notes and his interaction with Frittoli in their duet was also top class. Even next to such enticing tenorism, Mariusz Kwiecien can boast to have stolen the show with his firm flexible and dark-hued baritone. He is certainly going places.

There is no need to say Thomas Allen was a Don Alfonso to the manner born. Only an occasional lack of space in the bottom register could be singled out in a virtually perfect performance. He too can boast to have idiomatic Italian, as one could see in his scenes with Nuccia Focile’s Despina. It is a pity, though, that this spirited Italian soprano no longer has the technical finish to this repertoire. Some overacting had to do what voice alone could not.

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