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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Cosi fan Tutte (1789)
Dramma giocosa in two acts, libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte
Fiordiligi (soprano) – Dorothea Röschmann
Dorabella (mezzo) – Katharina Kammerloher
Ferrando (tenor) – Werner Güra
Guglielmo (baritone) – Hanno Müller-Brachmann
Despina (soprano) – Daniela Bruera
Don Alfonso (bass-baritone) – Roman Trekel
Chorus and Orchestra of the Berlin State Opera/Daniel Barenboim
Directed for the stage by Doris Dörrie
Directed for TV by Michael Beyer
Recorded at the Berlin State Opera, 1 September, 2002
TDK DVOPCFT [2 DVDs: 179 minutes]

 

Apparently this modernist production drew a few audible gasps when it was unveiled at the Berlin Opera a couple of years ago. I’m not sure why. German houses are known for being adventurous and, in any case, this is not the first time Mozart has had this treatment, Peter Sellars and Jonathan Miller springing to mind as previous iconoclastic directors.

Certainly TV and film director Doris Dörrie, here making her opera debut, goes for broke with her approach. She sets the action in the early 1970s, when the hippie Flower Power revolution was in full swing. As the booklet makes clear, she is not an opera buff, generally finding the few productions she had seen ‘pretty dry and dusty’. She is also quoted as believing the Cosi plot to be ‘a Hollywood-style melodrama’ and was obviously determined to make the most of the comic elements, using as her general motto "‘Cheat on your partner or not’, that is the question".

The end result has some things going for it, but ultimately one is left with the feeling that a dimension has been missed. Setting the whole thing as a hippie musical, which looks overall somewhere between Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, does indeed open up aspects of the moral dimension in this work. As Dörrie says ‘It was a time of rebellion against outmoded morality … conventions were being eroded and those who were brave enough broke out into freedom’. Of course, it also means that some of the inevitable anachronisms jar somewhat. We first meet the three male protagonists in a bustling airport lounge, wearing sharp Armani suits and emerging as early yuppies as they make their ‘hundred grand’ bet on the faithfulness of their partners. The next scene is then hard to take, as they have to tell their fiancés that they have been ‘called to war’ (where – Vietnam, perhaps?). It is admittedly hilarious when they then come back disguised as something out of Easy Rider, with hair down to the waist, sideburns and Frank Zappa moustaches. But the crucial role of the maid is also hard to take in this context (would these girls really have a maid?) and certain scenes, such as when the hippie commune gather for a pot smoking love-in, are funny but seem to trivialise the deeper emotions at work in Mozart’s plot.

It is very well performed. All the singers are on good form, and work well together in this most ensemble-based of Mozart operas. If I have a casting quibble, it is the rather too youthful Don Alfonso. Roman Trekel is an experienced singer and accomplished actor, but his boyish good looks make a mockery out of lines such as Despina’s ‘what does an old man like you want with a young girl like me?’

Barenboim’s conducting also seems out of step with the production. For such a sassy take on the piece, his tempi and phrasing seem stodgy and cumbersome. It’s OK, but in a very ordinary, unremarkable sort of way.

The picture quality and sound quality are both excellent, and there are loads of index points. I would question the need to spread over two discs, especially as there are no extras – the recent Die Fledermaus I reviewed was as long and went comfortably onto one disc.

This is certainly a thought-provoking and inventive production, nowhere near as awful as some critics would have you believe. But given the particular concept here, I doubt I can recommend it as a first library choice for repeated viewings.

Tony Haywood



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