Una donna a quindici anni
February 21, 2003
It was asserted to me that Hemingway's novel Across the River and Into the Trees was less bad than Da Ponte's libretto to Così fan Tutte. I find it a very bizarre comparison, but find myself unable to judge any opera libretti against actual literature. Voltaire put this best: Anything too stupid to be spoken is sung.
In the last week, I have seen the Bavarian State Opera's production of Così fan Tutte twice, on the 16th and the 19th. I'm terribly fond of Mozart's music, and Così is quite charming. Peter Schneider conducted admirably, as is expected of him, I've heard him conduct Mozart before at the SF Opera.
Dieter Dorn's set was again a bit given to clean lines, this time reminiscent of Bauhaus furniture. The set consisted of a raised platform covered with a white sheet downstage with six white walls, three on each side of the stage. Various other walls were added for other scenes, and the furnishings were of varnished light wood and not Bauhaus at all. Maybe the metal IKEA chairs from Don Carlo might have been a better match. Upstage was a lowered area with glass doors in the center and an olive tree stage left. There was a curtain towards the downstage area, painted with the same scene, so when they changed the sets they could simply draw the curtain. With eight scene changes but only two acts, this was an effective way of making the transitions smooth.
Jürgen Rose's staging was not as nice as his work in Don Carlo. It seemed too artificial at times, having people climb unseen ladders behind the side walls and sing from there or having Dorabella put a chair on a table and climb up on this as she is singing the aria Smanie implacabili che m'agitate. Most irksome was the choreography in Act I Scene 2, when the four principal singers do a pinwheel as Guglielmo and Ferrando take their leave of Fiordiligi and Dorabella and directly after this the Chorus walks on stage singing Bella vita militar falling down just after they sing "Io sparar di schioppi e bombe" (the firing of muskets and bombs). Interestingly, it wasn't the case that the choreography was too difficult for the singers, the six main characters were played by artists who were very good with movement.
Rose's costumes, however, were better. I was dubious about Fiordiligi and Dorabella being in midriff baring undershirts and petticoats until the last scene in Act I, since it seems highly unlikely they would receive Don Alfonso dressed this way. But for the most part, the costumes were fine. Guglielmo and Ferrando in their "Albanian" costumes were very funny, an orientalist nightmare of Middle Eastern and East Asian styles combined that was only acceptable because they are playing Italians playing at being Albanians. The "Albanian" chorus was dressed as if they had raided their linen closets, wearing tablecloths and sheets.
As for the singers themselves, the cast was quite consistent. The weakest, perhaps, was the tenor Jeremy Ovenden as Ferrando. His voice was just a touch quiet, but I could not detect this from the center of second tier, it was only when I was a bit on the left of the third tier that he seemed quiet. Or it could be that he was having a bad day on Wednesday, it is hard to tell.
Thomas Allen was better as Don Alfonso than Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, his bass is better than his baritone, as far as vocal projection is concerned. Baritone Martin Gantner was a charming Guglielmo, his voice was well suited to the part.
Of the three sopranos, Julie Kaufmann had the warmest and most powerful voice. Her part, Despina, was the easiest vocally though. Sophie Koch played the fickle Dorabella very well, her soprano is dark, and I'm not surprised that she also sings Cherubino in Le Nozze. Amanda Roocroft was an adequate Fiordiligi, her voice is cold but not shrill. Koch and Roocroft both had very pretty voices, and were also quite pretty to look at, perhaps the prettiest two sopranos I've seen in an opera for awhile.