Decca Laserdisk 440 071 524-1
Eugen Jochum, Fischer-Dieskau, Prey, Häfliger. DG 449 580-2
Arnold Östman, Drottningholm Court Theatre
Thorn EMI HBO VHS
Peter Sellars, Larson,
Sylvan, 1990. No commercial release.
At one time Cosí Fan Tutte was never performed because of the “immorality”
of the plot. However in this immoral age the plot is so much
less shocking than daytime television that the opera has certainly
caught up in availability to the other two Da Ponte operas in
Mozart’s catalogue. Mozart’s message then and now is, “lighten up,
you guys and girls,” but I can’t agree with Peter Sellars
that this is an “autobiographical” opera any more than, say,
Don Giovanni. Some recent stagings,
notably that of the Met with Bartoli
and Muti’s at La Scala have taken the opera very seriously, have
made a monster out of Don Alfonso, played him for a heavy type. In other words, have missed the point. The Östman staging
makes a very good point by casting all the parts as teen-agers. After all, these people are acting very childishly;
it’s absurd to feature full frame video close-ups of singers
in their 50s playing these roles.
Unfortunately most teen-age singers don’t have the voices
for this virtuoso music. The best staging I ever saw was with the San
Francisco Opera, where they played it as a Turkish fantasy with
Ferrando and Guglielmo going off
to war on two gigantic pink gauze draped gondolas — Constantinople
and Venice come to Naples — with the chorus sitting as spectators
at an Italian comedy in side-boxes.
And, of course, no video full-face close-ups of Schwarzkopf
While Sellars’ versions of
Figaro and Don Giovanni offered genuine insights into the characters in a contemporary
context, even people who know nothing about opera seem to be
able to see that his Cosí
is an unmitigated disaster.
No one I know has been able to endure it clear through
to the end, although like all the Sellars
versions the singing and playing are in the main acceptable
and at times genuinely inspired. For example, the “departure trio” is beautifully
Over the last 50 years (some will say 100 years) we have
now had a chance to record virtually every major opera role
and ensemble perfectly at least once, so we are now arrived
back at the beginning where we can appreciate an opera as a
staging and not worry if the singing is perfect or not, since
we’ve already had perfect singing somewhere or other. A night at the opera should be, and now is,
a night at the theatre and we have every right to expect a good
time and see a good show.
In this recording the four lovers all easily survive
their close-ups looking and acting to be in their early twenties. My thought is that Despina
should be at least a little older, perhaps, but here she’s about
the same age. For once
when the guys return as Turks they are truly unrecognisable
— it took me a while to tell which was which.
Despina does a better than
average job of disguising herself and her voice as the doctor,
but perhaps the point here is that aristocrats never looked
at their servants, including doctors, anyway.
Credible acting is difficult in this drama since in most
scenes at least some of the persons on stage are lying, even
if they don’t know it yet, but the one place where sincerity
must prevail is with the two girls in the “departure trio” at
the end of the second scene, and in this production it is nicely
sung but remarkably tepid, although perhaps not as bad as the
audience seems to think by their sparse applause. Don Alfonso delivers his soliloquy from the
back of the stage, rather than walking up to the footlights
as I am more used to seeing.
Everyone is considerably more committed in scene three
and after but even here the only people who do any real acting
are Despina (Daniele
Perriers) and Ferrando
(Anson Austin) and, after a while, Guglielmo
([Sir] Thomas Allen); the others generally find a facial expression
and stick with it, although it must be said this works OK for
Don Alfonso since, apart from occasional derisive laughter,
it’s his role to be uninvolved.
Playing the 2.0 channel sound through your surround sound
processor opens it up nicely.
Picture is reasonably clear throughout and video direction
is good. Sets and costumes are attractive, but this is
a small stage and the departure scene feels cramped for space. (From Ponnelle we
get a diorama of the Bay of Naples.)
Subtitles occasionally seem unsynchronised. In the final ensemble we have close-ups with
name tags on them, including of the conductor.
Final applause is generous, showing that the audience
felt they had got their money’s worth.