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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Così fan tutte - Dramma giocoso in two acts KV588 (1790)
Fiordiligi - Anett Frisch (soprano); Dorabella - Paola Gardina (mezzo); Despina - Kerstin Avemo (soprano); Ferrando - Juan Francisco Gatell (tenor); Guglielmo - Andreas Wolf (baritone); Don Alfonso - William Shimell (baritone)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Real, Madrid/Sylvain Cambreling
Stage Director: Michael Haneke
Set Designer: Christoph Kanter Costume Designer: Moidele Bickel
Video Director: Hannes Rossacher
rec. live, Teatro Real, Madrid, March 2013
Sound Format: PCM Stereo, DD. DTS 5.1. Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Subtitle Languages: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Korean
C MAJOR 714604 [202:00 +18:00 (bonus)] 

After the Prague premiere of Don Giovanni in November 1787 Mozart and his wife returned to Vienna. They learned that a day or so previously Gluck, the doyen of living composers had died. The Emperor appointed Mozart to succeed him at an annual salary twice that paid for composing an opera for the Imperial Theatre. Despite this, Mozart found it difficult to live on his earnings. He moved to cheaper accommodation yet again and Constance gave birth to a daughter on 27 December 1787. The child died six months later. Meanwhile, concerts became less fashionable, and with fewer opportunities of fees for performing, Mozart was reduced to writing begging letters to fellow Freemasons. Matters looked up after the revival of Figaro at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1789 with a commission forthcoming from the Emperor himself for a new opera to be premiered there.
Not unexpectedly, after the successes of his previous two operas, Figaro and Don Giovanni, Mozart again called on Da Ponte for the libretto of Così fan tutte. Itwas an original work by Da Ponte and was first intended for Salieri who did not like it. Mozart’s opera was premiered at the Burgtheater on 26 January 1790. It had only had five performances when all entertainment was curtailed on the death of Emperor Joseph II; it was never heard again in Vienna in Mozart’s lifetime although it was soon given in Prague and several German cities. Così fan tutte never achieved the popularity of the two earlier collaborations between Da Ponte and Mozart although, since the middle of the twentieth century, it has not lacked for productions. There have been numerous audio recordings and video recordings.
Despite the work’s increasing popularity in the second half of the twentieth century, particularly at Salzburg (review), and recognition of it as being an equal in mastery to the other two Da Ponte operas, it is difficult to bring off. This is particularly so with the emergence, in the last twenty or so years, of avant-garde producers and regietheater productions. Michael Haneke, the Stage Director for this Madrid production, shared with the theatre La Monnaie in Brussels, certainly comes under the former description. He has only ever produced one other opera, Don Giovanni, in a notorious production ay the Paris Opéra in 2006. Here, he takes a not dissimilar sideways look at Mozart’s semi-comedy. It is sometimes called a School for Lovers, as the cynical Don Alfonso tells his two younger male friends that all women are the same, not to be trusted too far in respect of fidelity and then sets out, via, a wager, to prove his theory.
The production opens with the chorus in mixed dress, some in period costume, others in modern dress. The single set designed by Christoph Kanter is elegant, comprising a large room in a villa, its wide windows opening onto a terrace overlooking a bay. The sitting room, with elegant fireplace, complete with traditional furniture and pokers that later came in useful as threatened weapons. There’s also a well-stocked fridge bar and a large modern sofa. Alfonso, in period costume was wedded to Despina. She is dressed as if a harlequin clown from a circus and is of somewhat indeterminate age. The young men of the story are dressed in suits, the ladies in very chic modern attire, Fiordiligi in a couture red two piece, the skirt above the knee, Dorabella in an elegant trouser suit. The men off to war are in uniform and return as Albanian suitors with farcical minimum disguise.
The above is sufficient to indicate that this was not to be a Cosi that Mozart might have recognised, particularly as he designated it a dramma giocoso implying some humour. In fact the production involved more sex and violence than humour. What little lightness of production came when the disguised Despina cured the dying poisoned would-be suitors who had found arsenic in the fridge, with an iPad. The violence at the end extended to matrimonial disharmony with Despina and Alfonso exchanging slaps on the face. Whilst some productions show Despina perhaps despising her own part in the deception I have never seen any other taking such an extreme view.
That the performances received a relatively warm welcome from the audience at the end owed much to the singing and strong acting of the participants. William Shimell has shown his acting ability both for Haneke in his Oscar-winning film as well as elsewhere. Within the limits of the production he performed the role well, singing strongly with good vocal inflection. The same could be said of all the young quartet of lovers with Anett Frisch as Fiordiligi being particularly notable in Come scoglio (CH.26) and the rondo Per pieta (CH.49). Unaccountably, Paola Gardina as Dorabella, after an acceptable Smanie implacabili (CH.20) was deprived of her act two aria E amore un ladroncello and likewise Ferrando his Ah lo veggio. I found the Despina a little acidic in tone as well as inappropriately attired.
Musically, Sylvain Cambreling was rather languorous in his tempi, the innate smoothness of the music further disfigured by periodic unnecessary stops. The choral singing was good. My Italian is not good enough to state whether the recitative words were as bent to the production’s view of the story as the English contemporised ‘with it’ versions.
There are excellent alternatives available including the 1983 Salzburg production under Muti, albeit in 4:3 aspect. John Eliot Gardiner’s 1992 Paris performance is a little hard-driven (Archiv 073 026-9) whilst Nicholas Hytner’s Glyndebourne production with Luca Pisaroni and Miah Persson is much more fun. It is available on DVD and Blu-ray (Opus Arte) as well as part of a bargain three opera DVD set.
Robert J Farr