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 Reviews

Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem - BBC Prom 41

Prom 41 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with Edward Gardner conducting the BBCSO in Vaughan Williams's Dona nobis pacem, Elgar's Cello Concerto (Jean-Guihen Queyras) and Lili Boulanger . Extremely perceptive performances that revealed deep insight, far more profound than the ostensible "1918" theme

Lisbon under ashes - rediscovered Portuguese Baroque

In 1755, Lisbon was destroyed, first by a massive earthquake, then by a tsunami pouring in from the Atlantic, then by fire and civil unrest. The scale of the disaster is almost unimaginable today. The centre of the Portuguese Empire, with treasures from India, Africa, Brazil and beyond, was never to recover. The royal palaces, with their libraries and priceless collections, were annihilated.

John Wilson brings Broadway to South Kensington: West Side Story at the BBC Proms

There were two, equal ‘stars’ of this performance of the authorised concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall: ‘Lenny’ himself, whose vibrant score - by turns glossy and edgy - truly shone, and conductor John Wilson, who made it gleam, and who made us listen afresh and intently to every coloristic detail and toe-tapping, twisting rhythm.

Prom 36: Webern, Mahler, and Wagner

One of the joys of writing regularly – sometimes, just sometimes, I think too regularly – about performance has been the transformation, both conscious and unconscious, of my scholarship.

Prom 33: Thea Musgrave, Phoenix Rising, and Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, op.45

I am not sure I could find much of a connection between the two works on offer here. They offered ‘contrast’ of a sort, I suppose, yet not in a meaningful way such as I could discern.

Gianni Schicchi by Oberlin in Italy

It’s an all too rare pleasure to see Puccini’s only comedy as a stand alone opera. And more so when it is a careful production that uncovers the all too often overlooked musical and dramatic subtleties that abound in Puccini’s last opera.

Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton journey through the night at Cadogan Hall

The mood in the city is certainly soporific at the moment, as the blistering summer heat takes its toll and the thermometer shows no signs of falling. Fittingly, mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton presented a recital of English song settings united by the poetic themes of night, sleep, dreams and nightmares, juxtaposing masterpieces of the early-twentieth-century alongside new works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Australian composer Lisa Illean, and two ‘long-lost’ songs by Britten.

Vanessa: Keith Warner's Glyndebourne production exposes truths and tragedies

“His child! It must not be born!” Keith Warner’s new production of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa for Glyndebourne Festival Opera makes two births, one intimated, the other aborted, the driving force of the tragedy which consumes two women, Vanessa and her niece Erika, rivals for the same young man, Anatol, son of Vanessa’s former lover.

Rollicking Rossini in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Opera welcomed home a winningly animated production of L’Italiana in Algeri this season that utterly delighted a vociferously responsive audience.

Rock solid Strauss Salomé- Salzburg

Richard Strauss Salomé from the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, a powerful interpretation of an opera which defies easy answers, performed and produced with such distinction thast it suceeds on every level. The words "Te saxa Loquuntur" (The stones are speaking to you) are projected onto the stage. Salzburg regulars will recognize this as a reference to the rock foundations on which part of the city is built, and the traditions of excellence the Festival represents. In this opera, the characters talk at cross-purposes, hearing without understanding. The phrase suggests that what might not be explicitly spoken might have much to reveal.

Prom 26: Dido and Cleopatra – Queens of Fascination

In this, her Proms debut, Anna Prohaska offered something akin to a cantata of two queens, complementary and contrasted: Dido and Cleopatra. Returning in a sense to her ‘early music’ roots – her career has always been far richer, more varied, but that world has always played an important part – she collaborated with the Italian ‘period’ ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini.

Parsifal: Munich Opera Festival

And so, this year’s Munich Opera Festival and this year’s Bavarian State Opera season came to a close with everyone’s favourite Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, in the final outing this time around for Pierre Audi’s new production.

Santa Fe: Atomic Doesn’t Quite Ignite

What more could we want than having Peter Sellars re-imagine his acclaimed staging of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic at the renowned Santa Fe Opera festival?

Santa Fe: Continuing a Proud Strauss Tradition

Santa Fe Opera has an enduring reputation for its Strauss, and this season’s enjoyable Ariadne auf Naxos surely made John Crosby smile proudly.

From the House of the Dead: Munich Opera Festival

Frank Castorf might have been born to direct From the House of the Dead. In this, his third opera project - or better, his third opera project in the opera house, for his Volksbühne Meistersinger must surely be reckoned with, even by those of us who did not see it - many of his hallmarks and those of his team are present, yet without the slightest hint of staleness, of anything other than being reborn for and in the work.

Haydn's Orlando Paladino in Munich

Should you not like eighteenth-century opera very much, if at all, and should you have no or little interest in Haydn either, this may have been the production for you. The fundamental premise of Axel Ranisch’s staging of Orlando Paladino seems to have been that this was a work of little fundamental merit, or at least a work in a genre of little such merit, and that it needed the help of a modern medium - perhaps, it might even be claimed, an equivalent medium - to speak to a contemporary audience.

Donizetti's 'Regiment' Ride the Highway: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

'The score … is precisely one of those works that neither the composer nor the public takes seriously. The harmony, melody, rhythmic effects, instrumental and vocal combinations; it’s music, if you wish, but not new music. The orchestra consumes itself in useless noises…'

Bernstein Bemuses in New Mexico

Santa Fe Opera’s Candide is a nearly indefatigable romp that is currently parading on the Crosby Theatre stage, chockfull of inventive ideas.

Santa Fe Floats a Beauteous Butterfly

Two new stars moved triumphantly into the ongoing run of Santa Fe Opera’s mesmerizing rendition of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.

Götterdämmerung in Munich

What I am about to write must be taken with the proviso that I have not seen, this year or any other, the rest of Andreas Kriegenburg’s Munich Ring. Friends tell me that would have made little difference, yet I cannot know for certain.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

ROH, Mozart’s Così fan tutte
25 Sep 2016

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

ROH, Mozart’s Così fan tutte

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Johannes Martin Kränzle as Don Alfonso, Daniel Behle as Ferrando.

Photo credit: © ROH Stephen Cummiskey

 

In case we don’t get it - and, perhaps, to guard against politically incorrect sexism - designer Ben Baur’s huge neon sign, Così fan tutti, looms didactically and disapprovingly over the closing scenes.

ANGELA BROWER AS DORABELLA, DANIEL BEHLE AS FERRANDO, CORINNE WINTERS AS FIORDILIGI, ALESSIO ARDUINI AS GUGLIELMO © ROH. PHOTO STEPHEN CU - Copy.png Angela Brower as Dorabella, Daniel Behle as Ferrando, Corinne Winters as Fiordiligi, Alessio Arduini as Guglielmo © ROH Stephen Cummiskey.

But, back to the beginning, which in fact is the ‘end’ - though not T.S. Eliot’s eternal wholeness - as five characters in elaborate period costume are encouraged by a master-of-ceremonies to accept the audience’s applause with self-congratulatory zeal and faux obsequiousness: the full eighteenth-century curtain-call monty.

There is a dash of unintentional irony, perhaps, given that at Covent Garden of late, the first-night call seems to have become an opportunity to hurl obligatory boos at the director and designer. But, more than that, bringing the ‘cast’ in front of the curtain, into the small space which (as the Anglo-Irish dramatist and critic Dion Boucicault wrote in 1889) belongs to both the stage and the auditorium, placed these singers/actors in a liminal space between the characters they represent and their real selves.

And, the conduit between reality and artifice was further strengthened by the arrival of the ‘real’ cast in the aisles of the auditorium itself, dressed in contemporary attire and flapping their ROH programmes as they anxiously sought to locate their allocated seats. Presumably in these fashionably tardy fashionistas we were supposed to recognise ourselves; and so here, and at other times, the house-lights rose, to ensure that we didn’t miss the point that this show is about ‘us’.

Leaving their belles behind, Ferrando (Daniel Behle) and Guglielmo (Alessio Arduini), awkwardly negotiating the knees of those seated in the front row of the stalls, clamber onto the front-stage to join Don Alfonso (Johannes Martin Kränzle) - the latter no longer an ‘old philosopher’ but a stage-manager/impresario who retains his period costume and, donning a black high-crown hat, all too often resembles the Witch-finder General.

Gloger and Baur then take us on a time-journey which lurches back and forth through the ages, from the Garden of Eden to behind-the-scenes mechanics of the very opera that is unfolding before our eyes. The allusions - cinematic and cultural, theatrical and theological - raise interesting questions, and to encourage us to reflect and relate we are consistently made aware of the self-conscious theatricality before us, as stage-hands in dungarees and doc martins stamp through proceedings, hoisting ropes, shifting sets and carrying out Don Alfonso’s commands.

2 ANGELA BROWER AS DORABELLA, DANIEL BEHLE AS FERRANDO, ALESSIO ARDUINI AS GUGLIELMO, CORINNE WINTERS AS FIORDILIGI © ROH. PHOTO STEPHEN CU.pngAngela Brower as Dorabella, Daniel Behle as Ferrando, Alessio Arduini as Guglielmo, Corinne Winters as Fiordiligi © ROH Stephen Cummiskey.

The histrionic departure of the two men takes place on a replica of the set of that timeless classic of repressed emotion, Brief Encounter, complete with mist-shrouded buffers, hanging nineteenth-century clock and a platform peopled by a crowd of Celia Johnson-Trevor Howard couples clutching each other in desperate duplicate.

Dorabella (Angela Brower) and Fiordiligi (Corinne Winters) first encounter the minimally masked men in a swish cocktail bar framed by Moulin Rouge -style cabaret lights. A wisp of a moustache suffices to convince the girls that they’ve never before met the two charmers in skinny ties and drainpipe trousers. Sabina Puértolas’s Despina - a cynical bartender rather than saucy soubrette - shakes a mean cocktail and delivers ‘In uomini, in soldati, sperare fedeltà?’ with panache worthy of Sally Bowles, atop the bar, astride the bar-stools, pausing only to whip out a blackboard on which to instruct the ladies in lessons of love - in case we’d forgotten that the opera’s subtitle is ‘ossia La scuola degli amanti’. Fun and frivolity were largely dispensed with, though, and as the colour scheme faded from shocking pink to flat grey at the end of the scene (Bernd Purkrabek’s lighting is beautiful throughout), the words uttered by Don Alfonso upon his entry, ‘what a sad and silent atmosphere’, seemed apposite. The gloom escalates and by the Act 2 duet which marks Fiordiligi’s capitulation, ‘Fra gli amplessi’ the storm-clouds are descending, lowered from the flies by Don Alfonso. When Despina’s blackboard later re-appears, her chalk scribbling, ‘Amor cos’è?’ assumes an accusatory, cynical tone.

COSI FAN TUTTE AT THE ROYAL OPERA HOUSE PRODUCTION IMAGE,  © ROH. PHOTO STEPHEN CUMMISKEY.png © ROH Stephen Cummiskey.

Next stop on our time-travel adventure is the Garden of Eden, complete with fallen apples hastily strewn by a stage-crew caught on the hop, and a serpent-twined tree atop a rounded mound - whose steep slant subsequently provides a convenient ‘slippery slope’ down which the near-errant lovers can slide. When Despina arrives with her magnetic cure for the arsenic-imbibing men, she resembles a biblical prophet who’s wandered in from the wilderness.

COSI FAN TUTTE AT THE ROYAL OPERA HOUSE PRODUCTION IMAGE © ROH. PHOTO STEPHEN CUMMISKEY.png ROH. Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey.

During Act 2 we are led behind and before the curtain, venturing backstage and deep into the bowels of the theatre, where Don Alfonso and Despina smoke cigarettes amid the detritus of dismantled props. Ferrando and Guglielmo now don stock oriental garb - high boots, salvars and turbans - so, fittingly, we visit the costume department and as the girls spin mannequins it’s made clear that Fiordiligi and Dorabella are fully aware of the true identity of their ‘Albanian’ suitors - a problematic directorial decision for when Dorabella removes Guglielmo’s shirt she has no doubt, or qualm, about her own disloyalty and it’s not clear who is being ‘seduced’. An interesting twist, perhaps, but one which robs the final ‘revelation’ of its relevance and piquancy.

ANGELA BROWER AS DORABELLA, CORINNE WINTERS AS FIORDILIGI, © ROH. PHOTO STEPHEN CUMMISKEY.pngAngela Brower as Dorabella, Corinne Winters as Fiordiligi, © ROH. Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey.

In a recent interview (Guardian), Gloger commented, ‘Every director of Così fan tutte has to deal with the question of why the women don’t recognise their lovers through their disguises, especially since they get right up close to them … [b]ut if the women are led into a theatrical, imagined space at the very beginning, and if they are seduced into believing fictions, then this contradiction no longer applies’. This suggests that the director thinks that this, or indeed any, opera is ‘real’. Whatever happened to that quintessence of theatre, especially opera, the suspension of disbelief - Shakespeare’s ‘imaginary puissance’?

Whatever. We are duly led through an exquisite eighteenth-century bucolic tableau, down into some shabby green rooms, arriving eventually in an auditorium which presents us with a ‘reflection’ of ourselves, as a line of theatre-goers assembles for Don Alfonso’s ‘Tutti accusan le donne’.

JOHANNES MARTIN KRÄNZLE AS DON ALFONSO © ROH. PHOTO STEPHEN CUMMISKEY.pngJohannes Martin Kränzle as Don Alfonso. Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey.

The cast of young singers - billed as ‘up-and-coming - are unanimously good, though on occasion they are almost felled by the fatal flaw in this production, conductor Semyon Bychkov’s snail-like tempi. It was as if Bychkov was so concerned, admirably, to ensure that we heard every instrumental gesture with utmost clarity, that he forgot that he was not painting a picture but a sculpting a drama.

Winters’ Fiordiligi is indeed as ‘steady as a rock’ vocally: she has a bright, ringing top and she agilely leapt through ‘Come scoglio’. But ‘Per pietà’ was so sluggish that I half-expected to hear a hectoring cry, ‘For pity’s sake, get a move on!’

Ferrando’s ‘Un'aura amorosa’ was similarly robbed of its emotional depth by the listless tempo, which was a real pity as Behle exhibited a beautifully sweet and light tenor throughout. He just about coped with Bychkov’s weary pace, but only by reducing his tenor to an almost-whisper in places - the pianissimo was impressive, but the overall effect was to suggest an ambiguous fine-line between emotional tenderness and frailty.

Angela Bower’s Dorabella was rather under-directed. Gloger had apparently decided that the usual hysterical mock-heroics of ‘Smanie implacabili’ were ill-suited to his conception but he did not know what to put in their place, and some table-top antics and arm-swinging did not fill the gap. Alessio Arduini suffered similarly as Guglielmo, lingering in Ferrando’s shadow dramatically, but Arduini has a strong baritone and made a good stab at conveying a credible and independent character.

SABINA PUÉRTOLAS AS DESPINA, COSI FAN TUTTE © ROH. PHOTO STEPHEN CUMMISKEY.png Sabina Puértolas as Despina. © ROH Stephen Cummiskey.

Johannes Martin Kränzle showed a good sense of timing and stage-craft, and his baritone is both full-bodied and fluid. It wasn’t Kränzle’s fault that this Don Alfonso was hardly a figure-of-fun; indeed, by the end he seemed a rather smug and self-satisfied nasty-piece-of-work. Sabina Puértolas has quite a weighty soprano and this Despina was well-sung but rather hostile and unforgiving towards the duped duo.

Gloger’s meta-theatrical exploits are all very sophisticated, and not without wit and wisdom, but often they are out of kilter with what the music is saying - and, in fact, with what the libretto itself speaks. When Despina sings to the ‘ladies’, lamenting her own exclusion from their feminine romantic indulgences, the two girls are not actually on stage; the two men may be dressed as West-End wide-boys from the 1950s but their lovers’ can’t tell whether they are ‘Wallachians or Turks’. It might have been better to dispense with Da Ponte completely and start from scratch; it certainly would have been more coherent.

Beethoven may have lamented that in Così Mozart had squandered his genius but to complain that the work is a frivolous fantasy seems to miss the precise point of the opera. The scepticism of Così may seem attuned to our own disenchanted age of disbelief, but surely to appreciate Mozart’s exquisite blend of irony and sincerity we need to wholly abandon verisimilitude, suspend our disbelief and enter the fantasy created by Da Ponte - a world both impossibly absurd and authentically reflective of its time. We may charge the librettist with superficiality and simplification, but Mozart’s music delves deeper and restores truth in all its complexity. Mozart’s score reveals the poetry - the beautiful poignancy - of the inexorable co-existence of hope and doubt in the human heart. Gloger’s Così is simply too clever for its own good.

Claire Seymour

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Così van tutte

Fiordiligi - Corinne Winters, Dorabella - Angela Brower, Ferrando - Daniel Behle, Guglielmo - Alessio Arduini, Don Alfonso - Johannes Martin Kränzle, Despina - Sabina Puértolas; Director - Jan Philipp Gloger, Conductor - Semyon Bychkov, Set designer - Ben Baur, Costume designer - Karin Jud, Lighting designer - Bernd Purkrabek, Dramaturg - Katharina John, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Royal Opera Chorus.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Thursday 22nd September 2016.

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):