Così fan tutte, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, September 2016Posted on 23 September 2016
This replacement for Jonathan Miller’s gloriously effective production of Così was a disappointment. The new director Jan Philipp Gloger, whose outré Flying Dutchman I saw at Bayreuth four years ago, was trying too hard to be clever, with a potpourri of ideas centred on the juxtaposition of life and theatre.
This started during the overture with eighteenth century characters appearing on stage and two modern couples entering the auditorium before making their own way to stage to play the roles in Mozart’s opera. The departure of the young men on bogus military duty is set in an early twentieth century train station, and their incognito return as demi-monde spivs among a group of seven identically dressed men, occurs in a modern bar presided over by the sexy Despina. She pushes them around in a way that might work well in a musical, but their subsequent suicidal attempt to get some sympathy from the ladies appears in a ‘Garden of Eden’ scene complete with tree and serpent, already one idea too many in a conception that never really finds a focus.
In Act II the use of tailor’s dummies plays a role, the men appear as eighteenth century Turks on an eighteenth century stage, the women in modern backstage dressing rooms, and for the final happy resolution an audience of middle-aged couples (including one of gay males and one of gay females) appears from below, armed with Covent Garden programmes and rising for Don Alfonso’s Tutti accusan … così fan tutte. All too clever by half, with Alfonso in the same rumpled black costume throughout, along with an early sixteenth century hat for part of Act I, creating a rather seedy appearance as stage manager for this elaborate farce.
Semyon Bychkov, conducting his first staged version of Così, was at times too slow and gave the music a somewhat non-Mozartian punch, but the singers, mostly making ROH debuts, performed well. Corinne Winters, who will return as Violetta later in the season, was particularly notable as Fiordiligi, standing as a model of constancy in her Act I Comme scoglio immoto resta, and delivering a beautiful Per pietà in Act II. Sabina Puértolas gave a delightful Spanish earthiness to Despina, Angela Brower made a charming Dorabella, and Daniel Behle and Alessio Arduini as Ferrando and Guglielmo fitted seamlessly into the Mozartian interplay of voices, with Mr Behle delivering a fine Un’aura amorosa in Act I. Johannes Martin Kränzle as Alonso did not always blend with the others, particularly in that lovely Soave sia il vento with the two ladies, but he will return for Kasper Holten’s new Meistersinger as Beckmesser, a role that surely suits him better.
This new production is one of the last during Mr Holten’s tenure as artistic director, and I look forward to a change of direction. The primacy of directorial concepts may work well for more baroque operas but Mozart was beyond that, and this all too clever staging fails him.
Performances continue on various dates until October 19, with a BBC Radio 3 broadcast on November 12 — for details click here.