Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

Pelleas et Mélisande in Aix

Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.

Siegfried, Opera North

This, alas, was where I had to sign off. A weekend conference on Parsifal (including, on the Saturday, a showing of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Parsifal film) mean that I missed Götterdämmerung, skipping straight to the sequel.

Götterdämmerung, Opera North

The culmination of Opera North’s “Ring for Everyone”, this Götterdämmerung showed the power of the condensed movement so necessary in a staged performance - each gesture of each character was perfectly judged - as well as the visceral power of having Wagner’s huge orchestra on stage as opposed to the pit.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Susanna Phillips, Katharine Goeldner and Susanne Mentzer [Ken Howard © 2007]
13 Aug 2007

Così fan tutte Deconstructed

W. A. Mozart’s Così fan tutte, heard on a stormy night July 11, proved a sorry exercise in deconstruction, something I never expected to endure at Santa Fe Opera.

Above: Susanna Phillips, Katharine Goeldner and Susanne Mentzer
W. A. Mozart, Così fan tutte
Santa Fe Opera, 2007

All photos taken by Ken Howard © 2007 courtesy of Santa Fe Opera

 

Last heard at Santa Fe in 2003, in a then-innovative and refreshing presentation by James Robinson of the Colorado Opera, the same visual production was back, with an entirely new cast, but given considerable new ‘method’ by Robinson the on-going stage director. It did not wear well.

Politely put, Robinson’s Così was a gag-filled, vulgar romp. Such is not Mozart’s Così, an elegant, ironic comedy – not an ambiguous study of human nature requiring Regietheatre treatment, as is the present day style with this piece. To make Così into slapstick comedy combined with faux psychological exploration of the characters is to miss the point.

Essentially a bittersweet comedy of character types, set to some of Mozart’s most exhilarating and beautiful music, Così indeed has dark edges that serve to heighten amusement over the foibles of human nature. I am bored by producers treating Così as a post-Wagnerian or neo-Freudian exercise of great profundity. Yes, the tormented bad conscience of Fiordiligi, as she wavers between passion for her new lover and duty to her old one, can touch the heart (through the music) – but right away Mozart tells us, ‘don’t take it so seriously – look how the boys are acting!’ Mozart has Don Alfonso (the agent provocateur of the show), mocking the insensitive lovers who have foolishly set out to trap their ladies into unfaithfulness, and got what they deserved. Of course, “women are like that,” as the title tells us, but so are men. That’s the show! What really counts in an evening of Così are the music and the singing, done in tongue-in-cheek 18th Century style. Director Robinson’s endless sight-gags and slapstick, as well as the over-wrought posturing of his characters, just got in the way. How many times can you throw a wedding bouquet around the stage or bang a baritone over the head with a huge Valentine box of chocolates?

Ironically, the Santa Fe Program book, always an interesting document, reserves a page to recall how a Metropolitan Opera production of Così, introduced December 1951 (your writer was privileged to attend the piano dress and five subsequent performances of that production in early 1952 ), was such a vital musical and theatrical success it inspired a young John O. Crosby, founder of the Santa Fe Opera, to establish his festival company in the mountains of Northern New Mexico some fifty years ago.

American actor Alfred Lunt was credited with the production, though Met manager Rudolf Bing and conductor Fritz Stiedry had major input. The Met’s old Così endured for many seasons and had no ‘concept’ beyond Mozart’s. Lunt’s chief contribution was to appear as a servant in full livery to prance about the stage during the overture lighting the footlights, which he did with nimble elegance and humor. From that point on, the Met’s celebrated Così was a straightforward rendering of the Mozart-DaPonte show, as written, based on the tasteful style of the famous Glyndebourne productions first heard in the seminal Mozart revivals of the 1930s. Soprano Eleanor Steber, Fiordiligi in the Met production, imparted to this writer, “Lunt never gave us any individual direction; Blanche (Thebom) had sung it at Glyndebourne so she showed us what to do.” That was a long time ago, but the germinal Glyndebourne influence long endured. The Met got it right in the 1950s, and on up through the 1990s was playing Così from the Mozart-DaPonte book. Nowadays, in sharp contract to Mr Lunt’s elegance, SFO had a dozen young men dressed in underwear lined up across the stage during the overture, waiting for their physical exams to enter “the school for love,” Mozart’s sub-title for Così. No comment needed. There is always hope Santa Fe Opera will return to the fold and present real Mozart. A new production of The Marriage of Figaro is scheduled for Season 2008, and there is talk of Don Giovanni soon thereafter.

A part of my problem with this summer’s Così comes from the prissy, unimaginative conducting of British maestro William Lacey. At times he had the excellent Santa Fe orchestra sounding like perfect chamber music; at other times it was thick in texture and sticky in tempo; only rarely was it theatre music with shape and point. One had to chuckle at one of the moments Lacey was dragging tempos, to see the well experienced Suzanne Mentzer (Despina) literally beat time from the stage with her arm, attempting to move things along.

Susanna Phillips, a gifted young soprano from Alabama, displayed a strong, superlative voice as Fiordiligi, but her great second act scene and aria, “Per pieta,” came near bogging down in Lacey’s slogging accompaniment. The musical style of the evening had all the principals ornamenting Mozart’s vocal lines with lavish decoration – runs, roulades, inserted high notes, none from the score and often counter to mood. It is not outside performance tradition of Mozart’s day to ornament, but the extent of it at SFO was excessive and tasteless.

The singing cast, aside from the interesting if unripe Phillips and the able Mentzer, was mainly unremarkable. A handsome tenor, Norman Reinhardt, was not unskilled as Ferrando, but his lovely Act I aria, “Un aura amoroso,” turned tentative and tight, the voice sounding wan in its upper register with little tonal appeal. The senior American bass, Dale Travis, was a faint Don Alfonso, playing well enough, but sketchy of voice. Katharine Goeldner brought a pungent reliable mezzo to Dorabella, combined with good stage skills. A baritone, Mark Stone, came from England to sing Guglielmo and one wondered why, as the product was not of export quality.

James Robinson, who managed to mangle Bizet’s Carmen almost beyond recognition at Seattle a few seasons ago, needs tutoring in hubris management. He is a well-educated gentleman, but his concept productions (or ‘method’ direction, in the lingo of the deconstructionist world, a corrupt domain ready for abandonment), have long since reached the point of diminishing return. The 1970s nouvelle vague of deconstructing masterworks of art to suit the “vision” of the director has waned in most artistic disciplines, yet operatic direction remains one of the last backwaters of that perverse fad. It got to Santa Fe late; let’s hope it leaves soon. Let me end with a question: Who would you like to trust with your expensive evening at the opera? A genius named Wolfie, or a would-be auteur, uncertain of his next stage move?

J.A.VanSant © 2007

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):