Kraus also suggests that this 1983 production turned out to be the last truly successful one in Salzburg, without detailing why Così fan tuttes since then have failed to find success in his eyes.
Michael Hampe’s handsome production moves quickly, with a white curtain descending for scene changes in acts during recitatives. The muted colors, detailed costumes, and tasteful furnishings give a sense of realism to the goings-on — not necessarily a good thing for this opera with its plot of two sisters in love with two men whom they are unable to recognize when they appear under disguise, to test the women’s virtue in a gambit proposed by the elder, cynical Don Alfonso. However, it is also best not to ham up the comic aspects, as the emotional repercussions of the stupid game begin to cut deeply in act two. Hampe directs intelligently, keeping each moment true to that scene’s shade of the story’s shifting tones (sets and costumes are by Mauro Pagano).
TDK has chosen as its star the conductor, Riccardo Muti. He has a large cover shot on the case, another on the rear (the men are only seen in their “Albanian” disguise, and the Don and Despina the maid, not at all). Open the booklet, and there is Muti again, looking handsome and vaguely satanic, all in black amongst the brilliant red seats of the auditorium. The brisk, emphatic overture reveals the maestro in full control. There may be more tender Mozart, or more majestic, but for detail and precision, Muti is hard to beat.
The cast lacks star glamour, but certainly not talent. The sisters receive strong portrayals from Margaret Marshall (Fiordiligi) and Ann Murray (Dorabella). Each captures the essence of her role (Fiordiligi’s wavering pride and Dorabella’s sensual flightiness). However, a more sumptuous soprano could bring more to Fiordiligi’s music, and as Dorabella, Murray’s dark instrument lays on a certain heaviness.
The “boys” are a youthful, strong James Morris (Guglielmo) and the dependable lyric tenor Francisco Araiza. Morris’s second act solo scene earns him the strongest ovation of the night.
Veteran Sesto Bruscantini so far underplays his character’s cynicism and misanthropy that it becomes unclear why he bothers with his nasty little ploy. At least he does not growl his way through the role, as has been known to happen. And stealing the show every time she appears, Kathleen Battle’s Despina sings and act with charm and wit and most gratefully, allows us a few moments away from the opera’s claustrophobic focus on its leads.
So as essay writer Gottfried Kraus suggests, this traditional production has classical elegance. For those looking for a more contemporary approach, check out the recent Berlin production set in the Swinging Sixties.