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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Cosi Fan Tutte (1789) [183 mins]
Fiordiligi – Corinne Winters (soprano)
Dorabella – Angela Brower (soprano)
Ferrando – Daniel Behle (tenor)
Guglielmo – Alessio Arduini (bass)
Don Alfonso – Johannes Martin Kränzle (bass)
Despina – Sabina Pučrtolas (soprano)
Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Semyon Bychkov
Mark Packwood (forte piano, continuo)
Stage Director: Jan Philipp Gloger
Set Designer: Ben Baur
Costume Designer: Karin Jud
Lighting Designer: Bernd Purkrabek
rec. live at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden 17 October, 2016
Extra Features: Introduction to Cosi Fan Tutte; Ben Baur talks about designs; Cast Gallery
Sound format: LPCM Stereo 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.
Picture format: 16.9. 1080i
Booklet notes in English, French and German. Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, French, German, Japanese and Korean.
OPUS ARTE Blu-ray OABD7237D [192 mins]

This Royal Opera House staging of Mozart’s timeless opera—and it is especially “timeless” here – has generated a good measure of controversy. Stage director Jan Philipp Gloger offers a clever production, in many ways, placing the story in various time periods, with Don Alfonzo leading the happenings on stage, like a director casting scenes in, among other places, the Garden of Eden, a modern day bar room and a 1940s-era railway station. He wears a period costume that at times vaguely suggests the attire of an 18th century clergyman, with scarf-like neckwear resembling preaching tabs. The rest of the cast wear modern attire most of the time.

Mozart’s opera is famously about women’s infidelity of course, but Gloger’s central message is that infidelity is shared by both women and men, that we’re all guilty. He conveys this notion to the audience and viewers in a sort of Brechtian style. In the final scene, for example, the opera’s title initially appears correctly in neon lights but is soon changed to read “Cosi Fan Tutti”, so as to include men. Also, when Guglielmo sings his aria ‘Donne mie, la fate a tanti’ he directs a spotlight at the audience. While he supposedly is chiding only women for their deceit, you get the broader message, if not then, at least by opera’s end. In a sense, Gloger seems to want to be politically correct in emphasizing that women and men—are the target here. And maybe we are all not just untrustworthy in matters of love and relationships, but perhaps we’re dishonest in other ways by nature – or, worse, by choice.

Anyway, you can say the production is all over the place, with its different time periods, symbolism and off-stage action. The opera begins with the major characters coming on stage during the Overture and taking preemptive curtain calls, all of them dressed in period costumes. But it soon turns out that they aren’t the opera’s characters at all, just traditionally attired stand-ins for the real cast who make their first appearance from the audience. Ferrando and Guglielmo sing from alongside the front row of the audience, with Fiordiligi and Dorabella nearby, and Don Alfonzo on stage. The four main characters eventually come on stage. From there the story unfolds intelligibly and stylishly, with the opera’s plentiful humour cleverly brought off by the players, especially by Sabina Pučrtolas as Despina.

The performances by the singers are first rate. Daniel Behle makes an excellent Ferrando: try his First Act aria ‘Un' aura amorosa’ to sample just one of his several highlights here. Corinne Winters as Fiordiligi is also quite splendid, as she amply demonstrates in her fine Act I number, ‘Come scoglio’. The Second Act duet featuring Ferrando and Fiordiligi, ‘Fra gli amplessi’, is delivered with great conviction and in beautiful tones by both. Angela Brower’s Dorabella is also quite impressive too. Her Second Act aria ‘Č amore un ladroncello’ charms you with its playfulness and wit. Alessio Arduini as Guglielmo and Johannes Martin Kränzle as Don Alfonzo are also quite fine, and as suggested above, so is the utterly brilliant Sabina Pučrtolas: her portrayal of the vivacious barmaid in the First Act is witty and brash, but never overplayed.

The orchestra plays with great spirit and accuracy for Semyon Bychkov, but his sometimes expansive tempos may pose a problem for some listeners. Personally, I can live with his somewhat more relaxed approach. For one thing, his tempos are never extreme or leaden, and often they are quite mainstream. That said, moderate to brisk tempos generally work better in this Mozart masterpiece. I’ve already described the sets, costuming and stage action but let me say further that everything in this production is first rate, even if a bit controversial in some instances. Sound reproduction, camera work and picture clarity are excellent. There are of course many alternatives available on video, but your choice here probably comes down to this: if you prefer an imaginative take on this opera with first-rate singing, excellent orchestral work but often with somewhat leisurely tempos, this would be a top choice.

Robert Cummings

 

 



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