This is a stimulating
production with total commitment from a strong cast and charm
second to none. Sadly it was Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s last production
following his brilliantly successful Figaro and Rossini’s
La Cenerentola and Il barbiere di Siviglia. The
use of film with particularly effective camera work, ensures
that the stylised setting and costumes come to vibrant life.
Ponnelle set the
production in a Palladian villa in front of a green sward leading
to the sea. To ensure that they look like sisters Edita Gruberova
(Fiordiligi) and Delores Ziegler (Dorabella) are similarly bewigged
and extravagantly if not flamboyantly costumed (see the disc
cover above): not twins, but not far short. Ferruccio Furlanetto
(Guglielmo) and Luis Lima (Ferrando) remain easily distinguishable
by individual height and colouring.
Curiously that leads
to what is probably my only niggle about the production. When
the girls finally succumb to ‘choosing’ their Albanian, da Ponte
wrote for Dorabella, …Prendero quel brunettino…(“I’ll
take the little dark one” of the subtitle), which describes
perfectly Lima in the role of Ferrando her betrothed; whereas
she is in fact choosing Furlanetto (Guglielmo), her sister’s
betrothed, which is the basis of the exchanged lovers and the
school of the title. Could the words not have been altered slightly?
Or is this a deliberate use of soloists’ physical attributes
with words intended to emphasise the unreality of what follows.
Initially I thought
I would have a real reservation about the sound recording taking
place some three months before the filming – you can almost
always note points where sound and mouth movements are not synchronised
– but not here. There might just be a hint of it with Furlanetto
but the overwhelming advantage is that the singing is excellently
recorded with no-one wandering ‘off-microphone’; whilst the
filming ensures that the singing is truly effortless and enables
the cast to concentrate on acting which they do to the highest
The American mezzo
Ziegler is a delicious, attractive Dorabella: big-eyed, innocent,
easily leading herself, and being led, astray; if ‘astray’ it
is; an important point made in this production, about which
more below. Ziegler is a true mezzo who can produce the
smoothest of deep cream sounds – beguiling - with most of her
role falling in the central part of the vocal range.
decided that he would stretch his soprano and expect her to
sing from bottom A to top C. Who better to respond to such demands
than Edita Gruberova? …Come scoglio… is the perfect vehicle
for her to show off her fantastic range, her amazingly accurate
leaps with every note middled and heft in plenty to drive home
the crystal clear words. Of course, great tenderness is also
required of her, for example in …Per pietà…. Gruberova
delivers this with great emotion. When she floats a note you
almost think it is still in the air after she has left the set.
Lima and Furlanetto
are excellently matched and paired: they both crackle with physical
and vocal energy, now against Paolo Montarsolo (Don Alfonso)
drawing swords together, now scorning the other’s attractiveness
to women. Lima’s tenor is strong and intense but also easily
able to cope with his moments of sadness during which he produces
some strong colouring. Furlanetto, similarly, has vocal power
with considerable warmth. Both share a strong sense of dynamics
used to great effect. Indeed it is the ensembles that are a
joy. There is not a weak moment between the four of them: the
vocal balance is outstanding with interaction to match.
Alfonso) is the sceptic. His is not the strongest bass and with
his mature years it is not surprising that his voice has become
drier and that he is less comfortable towards the higher end
of his range. Whatever those shortcomings, they are more than
compensated by some consummate mid-range and recitative delivery
and incredibly varied and telling facial expressions. This is
a Don Alfonso who is a true school-master of ceremonies superbly
backed up by direction and camera work enabling us to join him
in his philosophic role.
Teresa Stratas (Despina)
produces superb characterisation. She is the ideal effervescent
Despina if a little squally on high at forte with a slight
suggestion of note uncertainty. But she fizzes and sparks about
the set, cajoles and provokes with strong humour. With Montarsolo
she plots and schemes; together they demonstrate all too clearly
the strength to be gained from a combination of ‘old heads and
Her disguised Doctor
is convincing. Her notary outstanding: uproariously sounding
like a strangulated parrot with a massive limp. Had there been
an audience she would have stopped the performance twice: traversing
the stage with the shorter foot on a stage-width step so that
she walked ‘normally’ (pure theatre); later having missed her
seat, re-appearing with her nose just above the table to read
the marriage contract. Almost pure farce but with a generous
touch of class.
Class is also the
word for the playing of the Vienna Philharmonic. Only with the
chorus are they slightly overpowering so that it is difficult
to distinguish the words. At all other times the music is driven
by the simple premise of telling the story, complementing the
singers and providing phrasing and dynamics to match.
To return now to
my opening: “a stimulating production” and my reference to “astray”.
When the disguised Guglielmo is courting Dorabella, she removes
his yashmak, realises who he is and takes off his false moustache
and beard. They promptly disappear into the nearby shrubbery
from which they later appear significantly déshabillé.
The accompanying notes by Klaus Oehl tell us that this recognition
was Ponnelle’s daring idea. Later Ferrando, in disguise costume,
but with neither yashmak nor false moustache or beard, and therefore
totally recognisable, courts Fiordiligi who submits.
Prima facie the
girls’ knowledge as to the true identity of their Albanian lovers
makes a nonsense of da Ponte’s writing for the last scene –
the returning betrotheds, forgiveness and reconciliation. However,
does it make for a dream interlude in the lives of the girls
whilst their betrotheds were away? What is the significance
of the last longing look of Ferrando and Fiordiligi whilst standing
with their original betrotheds? This is no happy ending. The
four move to different parts of the set in varying postures
of dejection and despair. Dramma giocoso indeed.
The two acts are
conveniently assigned to two discs. The second is completed
with Deutsche Grammophon advertising and a half hour excerpt
from a rehearsal which I am sorry to say I found less than enthralling.