When the advertisements on buses declare "This Ain't Your Daddy's Mozart" in reference to a run of Così fan tutte, one certainly should be prepared for something outlandish. Jonathan Miller's production opened late last month at Seattle Opera, and it is certainly both hilarious and bizarre in a way that many contemporary offerings are not. At least he is engaging the audience, quite opposite of Robert Wilson or Anna Viebrock. Sadly, the performance lost steam by Act II, the plot is less absurd and more disturbing, and the buoyancy was significantly reduced in the second half.
The super titles for this production were exceedingly loose in their translation, and made the audience laugh pretty much throughout the performance, simply because it was clear that the words on the screen were not the words coming out of their mouths. "Bella vita militar!" was rendered "Come join the army!" and "Io non so se son Valacchi o se Turchi son costor." was something like "Are they from California or Aberdeen?" (a far cry from Walachia or Turkey). It was unclear whether or not the libretto was changed in all cases, because the laughter often obscured the words and the diction of the singers was not particularly good. I suppose this was a novel shift, how perfectly post-modern to make the super titles a focal point of the opera!
The costumes and staging were brought into modern day. Instead of being a maid, Despina is a personal assistant. She brings Dorabella and Fiordiligi Starbucks lattes instead of hot chocolate. Ferrando and Guglielmo wear UN uniforms to battle, and later, instead of pretending to be indeterminate foreigners from east of Naples, they are from Federal Way, WA. Except for the very first scene, the action all takes place in a single room with white walls, with one doorway in the middle, a few white upholstered chairs, a coffee table, a pile of white cushions, and a pink upholstered couch with a white sheet over most of it. This means the chorus is never seen, and their singing is rather muffled. As for the choreography, it involved much dancing about and air guitar.
This production would have been much better if the singers were with the orchestra. Perhaps it was the lack of souffler, but at least three of the singers were off from the music at various times during the performance. There are only six parts, so that is definitely a poor showing. It seems that the director was more interested in being witty and not as concerned with something as basic as having one's singers sing in correct time with the orchestra. Taken as a whole, the singers seemed quiet, in the dress circle, where the acoustics should be at their best, there were times when I had to strain to hear. This was the alternate cast, so perhaps the regular cast was better. Frances Lucey sang a charming Despina, her part is not particularly difficult as far as singing. Jessica Jones did not quite have the low range for Fiordiligi, her voice cracked slightly when she jumped down in "Come scoglio immoto resta." Don Frazure was decent as Ferrando, it is nice to have a tenor that isn't awful. Maria Zifchak (Dorabella) and David Adam Moore (Guglielmo) acted well but did not have exceptional voices.