Così Fan Tutte, Salzburg

Aug 11, 2006

Miles Berry

Cosi Fan Tutte, SalzburgWe braved the torrential rain on Thursday 3rd August to make it to the opening night of our other production at this year’s festival, an outstanding performance of Così Fan Tutte (my favourite opera of all at the moment), revived from the 2004 festival. The set was relatively bare, with not much more than a screen, a big rock and a harpsichord for most of the time, the latter played by Rachel Andrist who had some part to play in the action, as something of an observer on the girls’ side, which works well as Don Alfonso’s usual counterpart in Despina (Helen Donath) is played largely for laughs this time round. As with Glyndebourne’s production this season, the four lovers seemed much younger than normal, and one could almost imagine the action taking place in a public school sixth form, given the badminton and fencing classes with which the action proper opened. This actually works quite well, and means one doesn’t have to suspend disbelief too much for the plot to kind of make sense. Another point in common with the Glyndebourne version, is the subtle but very effective way in which the different personalities of the two girls are brought out, with the original symmetry breaking fairly early on.

The notion of the events of the opera as Don Alfonso’s, superbly sung andacted by the invariably brilliant Thomas Allen, experiment was made more explicit by the laboratory like starkness of the set, action at the beginning and end in which brings to mind experiments with rats and mazes, and, an admittedly well dressed, collection of observers to whom he seems to be making his point.

Folks have long had problems with the perception of implicit misogyny in the piece (the title roughly translates to “All women are like that”, but it usually stays in the original Italian), which this production nicely gets round by letting the women in on the big secret, that it’s the chaps themselves who come back in disguise to woo the other’s girlfriend. Clever idea, and nicely done at a few points, such as at the end of the first act, where we have the girls metaphorically winking at each other that they’re just playing along with the scheme. The problem is that, despite the programme synopsis, this isn’t really what the music or the libretto has in mind, and so this becomes increasingly contrived until by the time we get to Fiodiligi (beautifully sung by Ana Maria Martinez) falling for Ferrando (Shawn Mathey) the contrivance only makes sense if she really has swapped her affections from one guy to the other in a space of a few hours.

Traditional productions have the lovers returning to their original partners, supposedly much wiser because of the day’s events, at the end of the opera, whereas most modern versions have them swapping affections: this time though, it’s left as an exercise for the viewer to try to guess which ways things will work out, with Sophie Koch’s outstanding Dorabella in particular apparently undecided as to who she likes best in the end. The Vienna Phil, this time under Manfred Honeck, were just as wonderful as before.

Audi S8s, SalzburgThe weather being as it was, we’d taken the hire car into town and parked inside the Monchsberg, in the sort of carpark that looks as though it would do fine service as a fall out shelter, double blast doors and all, for which it turns out you can get a reduced ticket if you’re attending the festival! We were though quite taken by the fleet of chaffered Audi S8s parked outside, ready to whisk the gliteratti away afterwards.