Nicholas Hytner’s production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, seen at Glyndebourne in 2006, is about as traditional as it gets. The story is straightforwardly told and the settings and costumes are 18th century Naples, or at least some operatic approximation of it. That said, it’s immensely enjoyable and, just occasionally, goes beyond the superficial. The strength lies in the casting and in the director’s decision to allow his young singers to behave like young people. Miah Persson as Fiordiligi and Anke Vondung as Dorabella are close to perfect in their exuberant girlishness. Naturally Vondung gets to be a bit ditzier than the angstier Persson because that’s how the thing is written. Both of them sing extremely well too and there’s nothing lacking in the big solos or duets.
I think I’ve got used to David McVicar productions or, at least, what he’s produced in the last ten years or so. The director’s notes will sound erudite and convey the impression that he’s gained some vital new insight into a well known work. The actual production on stage will be almost entirely conventional with maybe the odd visual flourish but nothing to start the synapses firing. This is very much the case with his 2015 production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail from Glyndebourne. The “big idea” is that Bassa Selim is caught between two worlds; the ‘west” and the “east”. Well duh! This is as revelatory as pointing out that Mimi has TB. This “revelation” is the reason/excuse for presenting the work with dialogues unaltered and uncut. This is very much a mixed blessing. Yes, it does allow some character development that’s otherwise missing but on the other hand it emphasises the fact that without some interesting new angle Entführing is basically dramatically a bit feeble. Is she faithful? How dare he doubt it? Please forgive me. Why should I? Lather, rinse, repeat. Enter Osmin. Hang them. Impale them. Daggers and poison. Over and over.
The 2016 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro from La Scala had me really puzzled after three acts. There’s nothing to help with the production in either the booklet or on the disk so I went looking on line. According to the Financial Times, Frederic Wake-Walker’s production replaced a much revered version by Girgio Strehler and is a sort of homage to him filled with references to other of his productions.
What’s Mozart’s Così fan tutte about? I doubt there’s a good answer to that question but one element of what it’s about is artifice. That appears to be Jan Philipp Gloger’s jumping off point for his Royal Opera House production filmed in 2016. I have pages of notes on how the setting changes and who is singing to whom about what at which point in the opera. It starts with the “cast”, in 18th century dress, taking a curtain call during the overture but it soon turns out to be a bit more complex. Dorabella, Fiordiligi, Ferrando and Guglielmo appear in the auditorium in smart modern dress as late comers taking their seats. Soon the boys are on stage in front of the curtain with Don Alphonso (for some reason dressed as a 17th century divine) while the girls hide in embarrassment behind their programmes.
This recording of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro was made in 2004 and released on DVD, which won a Grammy. It’s now been remastered and released on Blu-ray. It was recorded at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris and directed by Jean-Louis Martinoty. The production is visually attractive and well thought out but not concept driven in any way. The sets are largely made up of 16th century paintings while the costumes are the operatic version of the 17th or maybe 18th century; low necklines, full skirts, breeches etc. There are a few interesting touches. Act 3 is set in the count’s curio room with dead reptiles, skulls and so on and it seems somehow to provoke extreme nostalgia in the countess during Dove sono. For the most part it’s a highly competent, well paced effort though with nothing new or different to say.
In 1884 Ludwig II of Bavaria put on a spectacular outdoor show for his guests at Herrenchiemsee. It featured perhaps the first use of electric light outdoors in a spectacular lighting plot designed by Edison trained Alois Zettler. That’s the jumping off point for Des Königs Zauberflöte. So now imagine, as was not uncommon in the 19th century, that the aristocratic guests had decided to put on a spectacular amateur performance of Die Zauberflöte. Ok, it’s not that probable that Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife, let alone Otto von Bismarck,would have performed but hang in there. Now suppose, through some warp of time, space and imagination that the “real” Papageno had shown up and pointed out loudly, and at length, that’s not really what happened. And so we get Enoch zu Guttenberg’s reimagining of Mozart and Schikaneder’s iconic work that played at Munich’s Prinzregententheater in 2013.
Wajdi Mouawad’s production of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, originally seen in Lyon, opened last night at the COC with Valérie Négre as revival director. The piece has been somewhat restructured and the spoken dialogue changed to explode the idea that the piece is “about” some kind of crude juxtaposition of the “West”; Enlightened, civilized etc, and the “East”; obscurantist, cruel, barbarian etc. To this end Mouawad has inserted a prologue before the overture where Belmonte’s father is holding a party to celebrate the return of his son and the others where he makes the above comparison in extremely crude terms and then invites his guests to play la tête du Turc, a game that involves hitting a Turk’s head with a sledgehammer. The guests wade in with drunken abandon, except for Konstanze and Blonde who are clearly revolted by the idea. This leads to a conversation around who changed and how while they were in captivity and so to telling the whole story in flashback.