In 2009 Claus Guth wrapped up his Da Ponte cycle for Salzburg with Cosí fan tutte. I really like his Le Nozze di Figaro and after seeing this Così I’ll certainly be seeking out the Don Giovanni too.
This production was staged in the Haus für Mozart and uses a single set. It’s the girls’ apartment; a very expensive looking two level loft with a broad staircase that recalls the Figaro. The setting is contemporary and it opens on the aftermath of what appears to have been a rather good party. The men are preparing to leave when Don Alfonso issues his challenge. It’s the edgiest version of the scene I’ve watched with quite an undertone of violence. This is clearly not going to be a light comedy. By Una bella serenata the characteristic feathers of the Figaro have appeared. The edginess continues throughout the first act with many deft touches, especially a power cut staging of Come Scoglio. When the “Albanians” appear there is only the most perfunctory effort at disguise. No slapstick moustaches here.
In Act 2 the pine forest that was visible through the apartment window in Act 1 has invaded half the apartment. The visual references now are to Guth’s Don Giovanni. The moral climate is darkening. Despina really starts to drive the show at this point with some extraordinary singing and acting. The seduction of the girls is also carefully staged and acted. I’ve never before seen the difference in Dorabella and Fiordiligi’s behaviour brought out more clearly. I felt I was watching piece with a psychological dimension that had completely passed me by before. That said, the degree of resistance may be different but the girls’ “falls” are near identical as each, scantily clad, drags her man off to a bedroom. The final scene has an air of inevitability and resignation and perhaps it’s the production’s weak point dramatically because there just doesn’t seem to be any reason for anyone to be surprised. The ambiguity of who will pair off with whom is maintained to the end. In summary, I didn’t find this as beguiling as Guth’s Figaro but it gave me some completely new ideas about Così.
The casting is near perfect for this production. The girls; Miah Persson and Isabel Leonard are brilliant singing actors. This production demands very good acting skills indeed and they come up golden. The men; Topi Lehtipuu and Florian Boesch, are just as good. All four of them are very decorative too which, again, is fairly essential in this production. Bo Skovhus is a menacing, completely non-avuncular, Don Alfonso who gets some very strange physical acting to do. He does it very well. Maybe the star of the piece though is Patricia Petibon as Despina. She has the manic physical energy of a Natalie Dessay and the same ability to sing brilliantly while doing extraordinary things with her body. She gets a full work out here ranging from her motorcycle helmet toting first appearance to her impersonation of the notary via a quite wonderful Una donna a quindici anni during which she peels off about four layers of clothes ending up back again as the gum chewing, street smart biker chick. Adam Fischer is in the pit with the Vienna Philharmonic. I’ll be honest, I hardly noticed the orchestra after the overture which was brisk and sympathetic.
Video direction is by Brian Large. He manages to avoid weird angles (unlike in Figaro) but I got the distinct feeling there was more going on on stage than we were seeing due to excessive close ups. In particular there were video projections that are barely visible on the recording. The picture and sound on Blu-ray are first class (1080i 16:9 picture and DTS Master Audio or PCM stereo for the sound). Subtitle options are Italian, English, French, German, Spanish and Chinese. The only extras are a few trailers but at least those include the Don Giovanni. The trilingual booklet has a track listing, synopsis and very short essay.