Every few years the Salzburg Festival replaces the productions of the three Mozart/da Ponte collaborations with new productions. At least in recent years they have entrusted all three to the same director but the “refresh” happens in different years and not always in the same order. I reviewed Claus Guth’s offerings here (Le nozze di Figaro, 2006; Don Giovanni, 2008; Così fan tutte, 2009) and noted the way that certain linking elements developed over the course of the “cycle”. I was interested to see whether the same thing held for the newest iteration by Sven-Eric Bechtolf. All three have now been released on Blu-ray (though due to availability issues I have the Così on DVD) so I thought I should watch them in the order they appeared at the festival and see what transpires. So here we go with Così fan tutte recorded in 2013 in the Haus für Mozart.
Bechtolf’s programme notes suggest that he sees the piece as being about the struggle between reason and emotion with the latter winning in the end and the effort to impose order on it as essentially destructive. Don Alfonso, and by implication da Ponte represent the Man of the Enlightenment; Reason with a capital R. Mozart, by contrast through his music, giving full reign to all the complex emotions of the characters. It’s quite an interesting idea though hardly a grand concept but how does it play out?
In Act 1 it’s barely evident. On the face of it we have a highly traditional production in eighteenth century dress (sort of) set in a conservatory so there are lots of plants for characters to skulk behind and there is much skulking. The principal concern of the director seems to be to present a series of very decorative and mostly symmetrical tableaux vivants. Perhaps this is a personification of Order? Even the Albanian disguises are Albanian disguises! Things only start to come apart at Come scoglio where Fiordiligi seems to be under enormous emotional strain and has to repeatedly restrained by Dorabella before actually collapsing and having to be revived.
Act 2 is rather different. Now we are in some sort of dining room and the trees are outside (but still skulkable). Both girls are very drunk. When Fiordiligi confesses that despite her proper behaviour she is actually in love with “Ferrando” she is obviously horrified and becomes increasingly distraught. Both Fiordiligi and Guglielmo seem very unhappy with both the Albanian “marriage” and the final reconciliation. There’s a very peculiar incident in which Guglielmo creates and stabs a fruit sculpture. As things progress Don Alfonso’s role becomes more obviously interventionist and, amid the emotional disintegration of Fiordiligi, the cruel side of the piece becomes clearer and clearer. It ends with Despina utterly disillusioned with the part she has played and Don Alfonso inadvertently poisoning himself. If Reason has triumphed it’s at great cost.
And so to the performances. I’m going to go out on a limb and say you will have to search far and wide to find a better sung or acted Così. The star is Malin Hartelius as Fiordiligi. She produces absolutely gorgeous Mozart singing coupled with acting out a complex emotional journey entirely convincingly. She’s well partnered by the Dorabella of Marie-Claude Chappuis. The pair of them are staggeringly (literally) good in the drunk scene which is a bit of comic relief as the production darkens.
The guys are really good too. Luca Pisaroni’s Guglielmo is strongly sung and there’s throughout a sense that he’s not comfortable with Don Alfonso’s game or life in general. He has a touch of dangerousness that’s very appealing. Martin Mitterrutzner sings Ferrando. He’s a fine Mozart tenor (all three arias are lovely) and portrays a more genial character rather well. Gerald Finley is Don Alfonso with Martina Janková as a somewhat more matronly than usual Despina. Both are first class singers. Finley’s portrayal of Don Alfonso as a disillusioned (and rather insensitive) string puller is masterly. As seems to be the case for me with this piece I scarcely noticed the orchestra which means it must be OK. For the record it’s the Vienna Phil with Christoph Eschenbach.
Tiziano Mancini does a pretty good job with the cameras. At least he shows us enough to see the formalism of Act 1 as I think Bechtolf intended. Even on DVD the sound (DTS 5.0 with Dolby surround and PCM stereo as alternatives) and picture are just fine. Watching the Don Giovanni on Blu-ray for a few minutes suggests that if you can find the Così in that format you will get a slighter more detailed picture and more immediate sound. There are no extras (bar a few trailers) on the disks but the booklet has Bechtolf’s production notes and a detailed track listing and synopsis. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese.
All three of the most recent Salzburg Cosìs have their merits. I’d be pressed to choose between them.