Mozart: Cosi Fan Tutte / Cambreling, Fritsch, Gardina, Avemo, Gatell, Wolf

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MOZART Così fan tutte & Sylvain Cambreling, cond; Anett Fritsch ( Fiordiligi ); Paola Gardina ( Dorabella ); Kerstin Avemo ( Despina ); Juan Francisco Gatell ( Ferrando ); Andreas Wolf ( Guglielmo ); William Shimell ( Don Alfonso ); Teatro Real de Madrid O & Ch C MAJOR 714508 (2 DVDs: 202:00+18:00) Live: Madrid March 2013

& kulTour with Holender: Michael Haneke

Così fan tutte is quite an unconventional little opera and unique for its time. It treats the subject of female inconstancy in romance, a topic that proved too controversial for 18th- or 19th-century tastes, but one that still piques our interest today, even if now considered a bit cynical and chauvinistic. If librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte had written a more conventional tale about male inconstancy instead, it likely would have already faded into operatic history. Perhaps Da Ponte got lucky in his choice of subjects, but then he always seemed to get lucky in his endeavors with W. A. Mozart. Perhaps we are underestimating the man. Of course, a sublime score from a true musical master does the mutual product no harm.

Here award-winning film and stage director Michael Haneke takes Da Ponte’s story even a bit further, with somewhat mixed results. Instead of two romantic couples we now have three, with Don Alfonso married to ladies’ maid Despina. This pair seems to bicker and fight like the best of modern couples, but they live in a sumptuous villa overlooking the Mediterranean. Set designer Christoph Kanter has located all the action in the couple’s modern drawing room, with low bookcases and a well-stocked wet bar on the left, and built-in couch and marble fireplace on the right. Three steps in the rear lead up to ceiling-high French doors that open onto a patio with ornate columns overlooking the sea. When we join the action, there is a costume cocktail party going on, 18th-century period costumes apparently optional. Of our six protagonists, only Don Alfonso is in period garb, although Despina wears what appears to be a clown suit (she also dons a red clown nose in her appearance as the medico at the end of act I). Fiordiligi wears a red party dress and Dorabella a black pant suit with t-shirt with her boyfriend’s visage on it. Later the t-shirt comes off, providing damning evidence to Ferrando that his lady has been rather naughtier than nice.

The two young naval officers begin by wearing suits and ties, but when they reappear ready for duty they are in naval greatcoats with powdered wigs and ceremonial swords reminiscent of Lord Nelson or John Paul Jones. Costume party or something else intended? The suitors’ Albanian disguises amount to colorful vests, patently false mustaches, and their neckties, now worn around their heads. The disguises, never serious, are gone completely by the end of act I, raising the issue of the girls’ complicity in the swap of mates. Curiously, the two couples pair up as originally until the little duet in act II where the girls choose up sides. Although making for a dramatic moment, one would think Don Alfonso and director Haneke would be promoting the swap of partners from the outset, as in most productions. Lurkers are another issue, those inappropriate characters who lurk silently on stage when they aren’t supposed to be there. For instance, the opening trio where the ladies’ faithfulness is questioned by Don Alfonso and defended rather ineptly by the young suitors is attended by the ladies in question. Their subsequent duet in praise of their prospective husbands’ effigies seems now a rather sardonic reply. Haneke gives us plenty of lurking, but it is never clear exactly why. In any case, this ploy has been used to excess in other so-called modern productions. Despina is portrayed here as angry and sad, a rather significant change in mood from her written role in what is supposed to be light comedy. I’m not saying director Haneke has completely set us adrift, it’s just not very clear to me exactly where his boat is steering.

Happily, the music-making is first-rate. I am a sucker for this particular Mozart score, so I may be no true judge, but it seems to me the Fiordiligi of Anett Fritsch is quite wonderfully sung, as is the Ferrando turned in by Juan Francisco Gatell. The others are all well above the norm and they all sing exceptionally together in the many ensembles. If I were picking nits, I would say Despina’s voice is not as clearly differentiated from the other young ladies as it might be and Don Alfonso lacks a certain baritonal heft found on many competing sets. Three musical numbers are cut, about average for a live performance, but Haneke has his singers taking extra time and vocal care with Da Ponte’s important recitatives, which are given virtually uncut. Hence the disc timing extends to nearly four hours, perhaps a bit long for modern tastes.

The trend today in opera recording is to live videos, and Così is no exception. The number of Così productions available on video disc is now nearly 20, but only four to date on high definition Blu-ray, this one included. I cannot pretend to have seen them all, but Fanfare ’s staff has reviewed many of them over the years; these reviews available to subscribers at the online Archive. Currently, I am partial to a Riccardo Muti-led performance from Salzburg I reviewed in Fanfare 34:6 with Margaret Marshall and Ann Murray as the two sisters. This Madrid production raises some interesting questions about the opera and is quite well sung. Recommended.

FANFARE: Bill White

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 714508

  • UPC: 814337011451

  • Label: C Major

  • Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

  • Conductor: Sylvain Cambreling

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Madrid Teatro Real Chorus, Madrid Teatro Real Orchestra

  • Performer: Andreas Wolf, Anett Fritsch, Juan Francisco Gatell, Kerstin Avemo, Paola Gardina, William Shimell