Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cosi Fan Tutte – Salzburg M22 (Part 1: Who is what, and which is who?)

I noted the other day the customer reviewer on who complained that this Cosi was confusing because he couldn’t tell which sister was which and which lover was which, and I thought Aha! That’s the point, isn’t it? Maybe it really doesn’t matter who ends up with whom.
In many (if not most) modern productions of Cosi, there seems to be a conscious directorial decision to create this confusion. Mozart and da Ponte have certainly set us up for this. The four young people are in love with love. They like the idea of being with someone. But it’s not clear if they are really meant to be with each other. In some cases, it’s not clear that they actually exist, other than in Alfonso’s imagination. 

So, in this production, it’s hard to tell who is who. The men dress alike; and the sisters dress nearly alike. During the overture, there even are look-alikes of Ferrando and Guglielmo, who play badminton with the girls while the guys fence.  

Sometimes the four lovers can’t even remember who is who. In Ah guarda, sorella, the first appearance of the sisters, Fiordiligi hands Guglielmo’s portrait to her sister; then Dorabella hands Ferrando’s to Fiordiligi. They sing most of the duet to the “wrong” portrait; then Fiordiligi looks at her picture again, realizes it’s not her man, and sheepishly trades pictures with her sister. Later, when in disguise, the men seem to forget which sister they are supposed to be wooing.
Like me, Ursel Herrmann* was bothered that the sisters were so naïve as to not recognize their own lovers. But she says once she decided to let the sisters overhear the men plotting to fool them, she was willing to direct the opera. This adds a fun and interesting twist to the plot.
So, in this Salzburg M22 production directed by Karl-Ernst & Ursel Herrmann, the sisters overhear their men making the bet with Alfonso and plotting to test them. Since there is nothing in the libretto to substantiate this, it puts the burden on the acting skills of the sisters. Their knowledge of Alfonso’s plot is conveyed primarily by glances, smiles, and significant looks from behind their fans (which Sophie Koch and Ana Maria Martinez do very well.)
One wonders how much they really know yet. Do they realize the men going off to war is part of the ruse? I don’t think so, because they seem pretty serious in their farewells. All the sisters heard was the initial bet. But they catch on soon.
The two players impossible to confuse are Don Alfonso and Despina. Don Alfonso has been around a few times, and boy is he bitter! In some versions, Alfonso seems to truly wish to enlighten the boys. Here, he seems determined to make them as cynical as he is. His Despina is quite mature (Helen Donath still sounds pretty darned good in her 60s!) She is the kind of woman (of a certain age) who would still call herself a girl, so I don’t perceive a conflict with the text. She is just as experienced and jaded as Alfonso. When she encourages the girls to go ahead and play around, her advice clearly comes from years of personal experience. In fact, it’s very likely she’s been around the block once or twice with Alfonso!
The chorus in this opera is always somewhat of a mystery. Who are these people, and where did they come from. Servants? Townspeople? Soliders? Happy, Wandering Bands of Singers? Here, they seem to be party guests of Don Alfonso, which makes me wonder if the whole drama is conjured up by Alfonso as entertainment. The chorus appears when he summons them; and they disappear when they are not needed. Occasionally they lurk in the background, watching.
There is one more character in this production: the continuo player, who is right on stage with her fortepiano. Somehow this makes total sense to me, but I am not quite sure why. She enters the stage with the sisters during the overture, and is quite engaged in the action—reacting and occasionally interacting. She expresses concern (for the instrument, no doubt) when Dorabella flings herself across it during Smanie implacabili. At various times, Despina or one of the sisters takes refuge with her on the piano bench. Her presence reinforces the artifice: she is kind of an alter ego (for everyone); and in her reactions to the drama, she serves as a stand-in for the audience.
Here is a moment of repose, as the sisters and Alfonso watch the boys' ship sail away.

In the next post, I will talk more about fencing, the feather, the apple, and the egg in Cosi fan Tutte.
*Sometimes I think Ursel & Karl-Ernst Hermann are just full of crap. But, in each of their productions I have seen so far (La Clemenza di Tito, Idomeneo, and Cosi) they do something makes me go “Aha!”  (Their La Clemenza di Tito is more like Le Insanity di Sesto.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are very welcome! They won't be moderated; but rude, abusive, and/or radically off-topic posts will be removed.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...