Mozart: Cosi Fan Tutte (hartelius, Welser-most)

Album cover art for upc 807280149692
Catalog: 101496
Format: BLU RAY

Così Fan Tutte is the Taming of the Shrew of the opera canon. In today’s post-feminist world, watching this opera can be discomfiting; to get to the exquisite music Mozart composed for his last collaboration with librettist da Ponte, one must put aside the here and now. And that’s exactly what this 2009 production from Zurich Opera House does: it throws its audience headfirst into the late-eighteenth century, the period when the opera was written. In the booklet that accompanies the disc, dramaturg Ronny Dietrich demonstrates how Così can be read as a critique of the era’s Enlightenment ideals: rational thought and the ways of the heart do not always match. Stage director Sven-Eric Bechtolf gives us a Don Alfonso with a veritable taxidermy collection, clearly a man of science, complete with a mad-scientist shock of white hair. He is the lone character donning black, lending him a striking and ominous appearance against Rolf Glittenberg’s stark, white, austere set. Science and logic infuse the entire production. There is precision to the movements, and the pairs of lovers constantly mirror each other, making for very crisp stage pictures. But the rigid symmetry has a down side: when singers occasionally end up an inch or two off-center, it becomes a salient error in the wide shot. Bechtolf really uses the music, capitalizing on every opportunity for a gag, but at times the excessive stage business distracts from the singing. The staging serves da Ponte’s words better than it does Mozart’s music. The transformation of this dramma giocoso (with a decidedly unhappy and, in the case of this production, quite morbid ending) into a psychological drama requires much of its singers. They employ a complex blend of over-the-top physical comedy—the suicide attempts made during Dorabella’s “Smanie implacabili” are hilarious—and nuanced characterization, with serviceable rather than outstanding results. Malin Hartelius’s Fiordiligi is competent, but she takes some time to find her Italian rhythm; her consonants are not propulsive enough to drive the music. Anna Bonitatibus’s Dorabella makes a fine complement to Hartelius, though her vibrato at times gets away from her. The men are largely more successful: the voices of Javier Camarena (Ferrando) and Ruben Drole (Guglielmo) are supple and viscous, blending beautifully for their duets. Oliver Widmer sings Don Alfonso with a pompous easiness, infusing his recitatives with a hint of a growl. The real success story here, however, is the Despina of Martina Janková, who completely commits to a brassy yet beautiful sound for her many comic disguises within Don Alfonso’s scheme. She is a delight. The litmus test for an orchestra playing Così, for me, is whether it can control the presto tempo in the overture. Welser-Möst’s orchestra passes with flying colors. The players are not without error—faulty brass mars one of Fiordiligi’s arias—but they have a rich, full sound that’s great on a stereo system. But even so, a lack of coordination between the orchestra and the six singers creates an indistinguishable wall of sound in the ensemble that ends Act I. It is just one more example of the uneven experience this Così delivers. An interesting and fresh production is coupled with fine players, and yet the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

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