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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Così fan tutte. Dramma giocoso in two acts. KV588 (1790)
Fiordiligi - Jacquelyn Wagner (soprano)
Dorabella - Michèle Losier (mezzo)
Despina - Ginger Costa-Jackson (soprano)
Ferrando - Frédéric Antoun (tenor)
Guglielmo - Philippe Sly (bass baritone)
Don Alfonso - Paulo Szot (baritone)
Dancers of the Compagnie Rosas
Orchestre et Chorus de l’Opéra National de Paris/Philippe Jordan
Stage Director and Choreography, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
Costumes, An D’Huys. Set and Lighting design, Jan Versweyveld
TV/Video Director, Louise Narboni
rec. live, 2017, Palais Garnier, Paris
Picture Format 16:9. Region Code 0
Sound format. PCM Stereo, DD 5.0.
Subtitles in English, French, German, and Korean
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 109338 [2 discs: 183 mins]

Despite the success of Le Nozze de Figaro in Vienna in 1786 and Don Giovanni two years later, as concerts became less fashionable, and therefore with fewer opportunities of fees from 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 premièred there. Not unexpectedly after the successes of his previous two operas, Mozart again called on Da Ponte for the libretto of the new work, Così fan tutte. It was an original work by Da Ponte and was originally intended for Salieri who did not like it. Mozart’s opera was premièred at the Burgtheater on January 26th 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. Whilst Così fan tutte has never achieved the popularity of the two earlier collaborations between Da Ponte and Mozart, since the middle of the twentieth century it has not lacked for productions or audio and video recordings.

The expanded popularity of Così fan tutte takes a giant leap forward in the public acceptance and attendance of two sets of performances of this dance oriented staging at the elegant Palais Garnier Theatre of the Paris Opéra. The plot is full of sexual shenanigans and double entendres and at times can be difficult to follow for those new to the work, even in a traditionally staged production. In this performance, on a narrowed stage and involving a cast of singers interacting with dancers, each attempting, in their own way, to convey the story, the challenge of comprehension for any newcomer to the work is formidable. By dancers I am describing modern classical rather than ballet dancers. These hark from stage director and choreographer De Keersmaeker’s acclaimed Brussels-based Dance Company. Rather than tu tu’s and classical ballet footwear, high heels and haute couture are the order of the day for the ladies, both dancers and singers. The dancers intention is to explain, or enlighten the complex plot of the opera by body movement. The singers, of course, have the words of the libretto and require to merely bring beauty of nuance, tone and expression to Da Ponte’s words and Mozart’s music, albeit easier said than done.

Sometimes there is no similarity of the dresses for the pairs of ladies or costumes for the men, at other times colour is indicative. For the men, particularly in the role of Don Alfonso, there is a clear distinction between them, with one in a braided rather than plain great coat. These matters are assistance in the unfolding of the complexities of the story with partner swopping and the like integral to the plot. However, in honesty whilst knowing the plot in some detail I was often left perplexed at what the various goings on were meant to indicate as dancers stretched, gyrated and moved to express what the singers were on about! That perhaps is an expression as to my naivety as to modern dance! There is some similarity in the presence of colour in the costumes of the two Dorabellas, the dancer being one of the more expressive in meaningful body movement, to my eyes at least.

As to the singing, variable is my best description. Certainly it is not the standard that I would normally expect at a major international house such as the Paris Opéra. Dorabella the singer, Michèle Losier, along with Ginger Costa-Jackson as Despina, create the most memorable interpretations vocally and as actors although the latter’s haute couture dress is rather incongruous for a maid (DVD 1. Ch. 20). Jacquelyn Wagner as Fiordiligi, plays the prissier of the sisters rather stiffly, as perhaps befits the role. However, her singing of the major arias, Come scoglio in act one (DVD 1. Ch. 28), and the rondo Per pieta in act two (DVD 2. Ch. 13) do not strike me as being of top international standard. Of the men the Ferrando of Julien Monty shows some Mozartian promise whilst I found the Guglielmo of Philippe Sly undistinguished. The men friends supposed costume changes, meant to disguise them, are non-events.

With so much mediocrity in the staging and singing I find it difficult to account for the seeming popularity in Paris of this staging, it having a double cast run in the spring of 2017 and again later in the year. Which is the basis of the recordings is not revealed. Perhaps the staging intrigued the French, or, alternatively, the music making under Philippe Jordan’s direction. However, I personally found no particular Mozartian distinction with the latter’s efforts on the rostrum. Perhaps it all came over better live than on film, the excessive narrowing of the stage does the sound no favours.

Robert J Farr


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