The 2013 production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte from Madrid’s Teatro Real is one of German film director Michael Haneke’s comparatively rare forays into opera. Naturally I was expecting a highly conceptual interpretation but, although his vision is far from conventional, Konzept found I not. What I saw was a collection of ideas that didn’t quite cohere for me. Costume and sets are a mix of 18th century modern. We are in Don Alfonso’s inconsistently modernised mansion. There are enormous 18th century paintings and chandeliers but also leatherette banquettes and the Giant Fridge of Booze. The boys and girls wear contemporary party attire, including a rather fetching red dress for Fiordiligi, but Don Alfonso is in full 18th century gard and Despina seems to be dressed as Pierrot. Perhaps it’s some sort of party where some of the guests have decided to do the costume thing and some haven’t? When the boys go off to the army they do so in some sort of distant past opera version of military uniform; wigs and swords.
Philippe Boesmans’ opera Julie; libretto by Luc Bondy and Marie-Louise Bischolberger after Früken Julie by August Strindberg, is unremittingly bleak. In fact, if it lasted much longer than its 75 minutes I could well imagine audience members cutting their throats long before the title character. That said, it’s pretty compelling stuff. It’s a tight drama about a young aristocratic woman kicking against the constraints of her privileged life aided and abetted by her father’s rather spineless valet Jean; a suitable occupation as he is one of nature’s lackeys. The only likeable character is Jean’s young fiancée Kristin, a cook in the household. Buried in this simple melodramatic plot of lust, betrayal and suicide are all kinds of ideas about heredity, social class and behaviour. Broadly speaking the message is “The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate” and woe betide you if your plebeian mother married above herself.
Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni recorded at the 2010 Aix-en-Provence festival is full on Regie. He takes the characters and story of Mozart/DaPonte and recasts them quite radically. Zerlina is Donna Anna’s daughter. Donna Elvira, Donna Anna’s cousin, is married to Don Giovanni. Leporello is a family member too. The sense is of one extended, conventional, bourgeois family in which Don Giovanni is a fatally disruptive intrusion. Tcherniakov changes the time line too. Instead of taking place over a 24 hour period the story plays out over many weeks.