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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Così fan tutte (1790)
Ann Christine Biel (soprano) – Fiordiligi; Maria Höglind (mezzo) – Dorabella; Lars Tibell (tenor) – Ferrando; Magnus Lindén (baritone) – Guglielmo; Ulla Severin (soprano) – Despina; Enzo Florimo (bass-baritone) – Don Alfonso
Orchestra and Chorus of the Drottningholm Court Theatre/Arnold Östman
Directed for the Stage by Willy Decker; Design by Tobias Hoheisel; Directed and Produced for TV by Thomas Olofsson
rec. Drottningholm Court Theatre, Stockholm, 1984
Sound Format PCM Stereo; Picture Format 4:3; Region Code 0
ARTHAUS 102 005 [139:00]


I have always had a soft spot for Mozart from the Drottningholm Theatre. Opened in 1766 the theatre’s stage and equipment, when well used, are perfect for ‘traditional’ Mozart productions. Though this isn’t by any means the very best of the Drottningholm Mozarts, it is well worth two hours of the time and attention of any Mozartean.

This is indeed a traditional production, in terms of staging – there are no ocean liners here, nor any sign of ‘Despina’s Diner’. Under a neo-classical portico, glimpses of sky and sea have a reasonably Neapolitan air about them and the interiors, though very simply furnished, are perfectly convincing. Costumes are also simple – the white dresses of the sisters pleasantly attractive. The whole look is plausible and comfortable. There are nice touches – the scene in which Despina, as the magnetic doctor, brings about the ‘recovery’ of the ‘Albanians’ is wittily directed. Most of the intimate scenes between the sisters work very well. During the overture we see the cast making their way to the theatre – on bikes, jogging, on the bus – and this works well, suggesting the importance of ensemble rather than starry soloists and hinting at some of the ways in which da Ponte’s dramatic narrative is connected to the real world. Above all, no aspect of the production seeks to force on the audience a single interpretation of this most ironic and ambiguous of Mozart’s operas. The designer – and indeed – the director have had the professional humility (and competence) to be able to put themselves at the service of Mozart’s music and Lorenzo da Ponte’s words, rather than imposing themselves so forcefully as to limit and distort words or music. The young Swedish cast mostly have a good stage presence and there is a deal of effective ensemble playing. Ulla Severin is vivacious Despina, with a sparkle in her eyes and expressive body language, her very way of moving distinct from that of her aristocratic mistresses. Enzo Florimo is a disturbingly genial, arrogantly knowing, Don Alfonso. Ann Christine Biel is a persuasive Fiordiligi, capturing rapidly changing emotions quite effectively; Maria Höglind is, not altogether unfittingly, less emotionally expressive. Lars Tibell is decidedly wooden as Ferrando and Magnus Lindén’s Guglielmo only convinces one somewhat inconsistently of the reality of his emotions.

Musically things are a little disappointing. Most of the singing is adequate, but not often much more than that. Part of the problem may be the sheer speed of most of Östman’s tempi, with his original-instrument orchestra. It is almost as if these (mostly) relatively young singers simply don’t have the capacity at these tempos to do much more than get the notes out, as if there’s no time for real vocal characterisation or tonal variety. Biel is perhaps the most successful; she is genuinely moving in ‘Come scoglio’. Höglind and Lindén acquit themselves perfectly competently, but only occasionally achieve much individuality. Tibell is often struggling; he makes particularly heavy weather of ‘Un’aura amorosa del nostro tesoro’. Severin carries her role more by stage manner than by any special vocal distinction and much the same might be said of Florimo.

For all my reservations about the musical achievement of this production, I found it an enjoyable experience. The intimacy of the Drottningholm theatre transfers well to the intimate ‘theatre’ in one’s living room. The general level of ensemble playing is satisfying and largely compensates for the fact that the singing is not of the very highest standards. Così is a remarkable work; a fable of innocence and experience, full of complex ironic relationships between pretend and ‘real’, between laughter and sorrow. The approach to self-knowledge and to knowledge of society, worked out through embarrassment and conflicted emotions, in scene after scene which depends on discrepant levels of awareness, some characters knowing more than others, the audience knowing most of all, makes Così in some ways the most sophisticated of all of Mozart’s operas. Enough of all of that survives here to make this DVD rewarding, despite its areas of weakness. It should be said that neither picture nor sound are always as perfectly focused as we would now expect, but such technical limitations don’t seriously inhibit one’s pleasure.

Glyn Pursglove


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