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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
The Da Ponte Operas:

Così fan tutte (1790)
Sally Matthews (soprano) – Fiordiligi; Maite Beaumont (mezzo) – Dorabella; Luca Pisaroni (bass-baritone) – Guglielmo; Norman Shankle (tenor) – Ferrando; Danielle de Niese (soprano) – Despina; Garry Magee (baritone) – Don Alfonso
Le nozze di Figaro (1786)
Garry Magee (baritone) – Count Almaviva; Celia Costea (soprano) – Countess Almaviva; Danielle de Niese (soprano) – Susanna; Luca Pisaroni (bass-baritone) – Figaro; Maite Beaumont (soprano) – Cherubino; Charlotte Margiono (soprano) – Marcellina; Mario Luperi (bass) – Bartolo; Marcel Reijans (tenor) – Don Basilio; Norman Shankle (tenor) – Don Curzio; Floor van der Sluis (soprano) – Barbarina; Roberto Accurso (bass) – Antonio; Melanie Greve, Fang Fang Kong – First and second ladies
Don Giovanni (1787)
Pietro Spagnoli (baritone) – Don Giovanni; Mario Luperi (bass) – Commendatore; Myrtò Papatanasiu (soprano) – Donna Anna; Marcel Reijans (tenor) – Don Ottavio; Charlotte Margiono (soprano) – Donna Elvira; José Fardiha (bass-baritone) – Leporello; Roberto Accurso (bass) – Masetto; Cora Burggraaf (soprano) – Zerlina
Netherlands Chamber Orchestra
Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera/Ingo Metzmacher
Stage Directors: Jossi Wieler; Sergio Morabito
Set Designer: Barbara Ehnes
Costume Designer: Anja Rabes
Lighting Designer: David Finn
TV Director: Misjel Vermeiren
rec. live, Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam, 2006 (Figaro; Così) and 2007 (Don Giovanni)
Picture format: 16/9 Anamorphic
Sound formats: Dolby Digital Stereo, Dolby Digital Surround
Disc 4 contains illustrated synopses, cast galleries and introductions to the trilogy and the individual operas
OPUS ARTE OA 3020BD [694:00]
Experience Classicsonline

The idea of transporting a play or an opera in time and/or location has been eagerly debated for many years. Whether either camp - the sticklers for a historically correct performance versus the modernizers - has been more successful in convincing the followers of the opposite opinion is hard to say. In any event it seems that the number of modernized productions has been escalating lately. I can’t say that I support either camp wholeheartedly but I see no point in modernizing for the sake of modernizing. There has to be some point in the refurbishing and it has to make sense. Customs, society, fashion, morals change but the text of a 200-year-old opera refers to the situation when it was written and it takes a lot to make it fit into a 21st century setting. It may work but it may also end up in disaster.

In the present box we encounter Jossi Wieler’s and Sergio Morabito’s view of the three Mozart-Da Ponte operas as presented during the last two seasons at Het Muziektheater in Amsterdam. According to the blurb on the box they have set Così fan tutte in a 1960s youth hostel; looks like a seaside resort to me. Le nozze di Figaro plays in a car showroom (!) while in Don Giovanni the stage is occupied with beds of varying models and sizes and the eight characters are, with few exceptions, on stage all the time. Even the Commendatore lies dead on his bed from the first scene when he is murdered until the scene in the churchyard where he is - according to Da Ponte’s libretto – a marble statue and in the very end appears at Don Giovanni’s dinner.

In all three operas disguise plays an important role. I can believe that in the eighteenth century, when everything was much darker and dimmer some of it might have been believable but shouldn’t Fiordiligi and Dorabella have recognized their fiancés in spite of the Albanian costumes? Shouldn’t Figaro and the Count have found out immediately who was who; Figaro does rather quickly? And shouldn’t Donna Elvira have been able to tell Leporello from Don Giovanni, whom she had known intimately? Wieler and Morabito take lightly on this and skip most of the masking altogether. Despina in various roles as doctor or notary is actually in some kind of disguise but easy to penetrate anyway. The moral in all this could be: if you want to be deceived you will be deceived.

Of the three operas Così fan tutte works well in its new setting. The revolving scene elegantly changes scenes, the actors are young – even Don Alfonso created by Garry Magee is at most early middle aged and has an affair, it seems, with Despina. It is well acted and well sung and the direction is ever-inventive and fresh. Without exception the casting is superb with the actors looking their roles and several of them appearing in more than one production.

Le nozze di Figaro at first seemed completely out of phase with the libretto with a posh green sports car centre-stage and the mechanic under it turns out to be Cherubino. But the freshness of the approach and the wholehearted acting won me over quite soon and once again one has to admire the invention. The garden scene is shown mainly in filmed sequences and may be incomprehensible for a newcomer; the majority of the audience on site as well as intended buyers of the DVDs probably know the story. What is incomprehensible is when there is a lack of correspondence between what people sing and what happens on stage. In Figaro the Countess says to Susanna: ‘Take my guitar and accompany him (Cherubino)" but she doesn’t, and in Don Giovanni there are numerous examples of this discordance. When Don says to Leporello: ‘Serve more wine’ he serves it himself, when Figaro wants to taste the pheasant he eats melon. I could list many more instances and my question is: What’s the point in this? ‘Nothing is what it seems to be’ or ‘Don’t trust a person’s words, trust his actions’?

Don Giovanni is the work in this trilogy that I can’t digest in this absurdist setting. It not only feels incoherent, in spite of the secluded milieu, but is also brutal, cynical and vulgar. Leporello masturbates, obviously frustrated by his master’s sexual activities, Don Giovanni rapes Zerlina in front of all the people, staining her white dress as well as his own trousers. There is no lack of interesting details and solutions and the acting, as in the other two operas, is brilliant but in the end I felt slightly nauseated. Others may feel differently.

Musically these are rather full versions, though there are also some cuts. In Le nozze di Figaro Marcellina and Don Basilio are granted their arias in act four and in Don Giovanni the Zerlina-Leporello duet Per queste tue manine is included in a kind of torture scene where the young peasant girl takes revenge on the male sex for what she has been subjected to. The secco recitatives are accompanied by guitar in Così fan tutte, on a synthesizer in Figaro and by virginal and cello in Don Giovanni. Again a fresh approach. Ingo Metzmacher leads vivid performances though never rushes things.

Danielle de Niese is superb as Despina and Susanna, vocally and visually: expressive, alive, charming and sparkling. Maite Beaumont is two different characters as Dorabella: hysterical, shy, impulsive – and Cherubino: youthfully vivid and agitated. In both roles her singing is magnificent. Luca Pisaroni is a virile Guglielmo and a dramatic Figaro. His darkish baritone is perfectly suited to both roles and he nuances his arias to perfection. Garry Magee is vocally impressive in two so different roles as the worldly-wise Don Alfonso and the explosive Count Almaviva and acts with philosophical distinction as the former, haughty nobility as the latter. Norman Shankle is a more powerful Ferrando than most and he also makes the comprimario role of Don Curzio in Figaro. The only member of the Così ensemble, who doesn’t appear elsewhere in the cycle is Sally Matthews, who takes some time to warm up but in her second act aria she is on form: great singing and acting there.

In Figaro we encounter Cellia Costea as a truly impressive Countess. Her Dove sono in act three is one of the best things in the opera. Mario Luperi, slim and well-mannered, is a fine Bartolo and a dynamic Commendatore in Don Giovanni, and Charlotte Margiono makes a magnificent Marcellina. Her fourth act aria is super. She is a show-stealer also as Donna Elvira, even though her singing is a little less assured. Marcel Reijans acts and sings well as a carefree Don Basilio and is a real jerk as Don Ottavio (as he should be), one of the sloppiest characters in any Mozart opera. But this spineless nobleman has, in a conglomerate of the Prague and Vienna versions, two lovely arias and Dalla sua pace is sung with lyrical glow and he is vocally virile in Il mio tesoro. Floor van der Sluis is fresh as dew as Barbarina, looking no older than seventeen and Roberto Accurso is an Antonio not to be tampered with – considerably more sober than Mozart’s gardener.

In Don Giovanni he is a jealous hot-tempered Masetto, ready to flog his fiancée with his belt whenever he is suspicious of her virtue. She, Zerlina, is rather flirtatious and flattered by Don Giovanni’s advances but she has a heart of gold and Cora Burggraaf makes her a blonde, warm and slightly naïve peasant girl. The Don himself is here a middle-aged, greyish cynic and Pietro Spagnoli portrays him superbly in a many-faceted reading. He dominates the stage with naturalness and he sings the part extremely well. His manservant Leporello is a weakling, shivering with fright, convincingly played by José Fardilha, whose singing is one of the greatest pleasures in this generally well sung production. Myrtò Papatanasiu, finally, is a noble looking Donna Anna, and she makes a believable portrait of this complex woman. She is vocally great, especially in that trial of strength, the big second act aria.

So there we are: musically these are three very good performances, the acting is uniformly fine but the stagings are controversial. I liked Così from beginning to end, I had some doubts about Figaro but eventually capitulated. I could appreciate many details in Don Giovanni but the whole concept seemed wrong.

Göran Forsling


 


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