In Which Claus Guth Reveals Himself to Be a 1.5 Trick Pony

[edit 5/15/12: I wrote this a long time ago. I think I may end up changing my mind about this production – it’s on my list to watch again.]

Today we are concerned with a DVD of a production of Cosi fan tutte from Salzburg in 2009. I watched the first act, and by the time I got to the end of that I pretty much had the trick of the thing, so I listened to the rest of it while I typed up my notes. So, there may have been any number of brilliant and wonderful things that happened after “una donna a quindici anni” that I missed. If so, I hope someone lets me know.

Anyway. These are my notes. For reference, here is the beginning scene of the opera, so you know what it looks like.

First of all. What IS it with the Haus fuer Mozart’s orchestra? They’re all white guys. I have noticed this before. It’s weird enough that I always half suspect it’s some sort of freaky directorial touch, except 1. It’s the orchestra and 2. I know better than that.

I watched about twenty minutes of this and then I had to pause it and pick up the DVD case to see who the director was, because the feel of the thing was awfully familiar . . . .and it turns out the directer is Claus Guth. Remember Claus Guth? Well, this production contains some of his signature moves. It begins with a tableau. There are feathers, a few of which get dropped on Fiordiligi and Dorabella, and Don Alfonso spends far more time than he should making stylized hand gestures. Basically, if you remember the Infamous Figaro, Don Alfonso is the Cherub. (Skovhus, you are a trooper. And you have some fairly killer dance moves.) There is a big staircase stage left, and the stage direction for Soave sia il vento bears more than a passing resemblance to voi che sapete in his Le Nozze di Figaro. The main difference between this and Guth’s Figaro is that with the Figaro, once you get used to that funny taste in your mouth, it’s really kind of wonderful, and this is not.

I wanted to see this in part because Patricia Petibon sings Despina. I had a feeling that it would be either brilliant or really annoying, and it’s more the latter than the former, but that’s not entirely Petibon’s fault. In this version Despina is a sort of biker chick who happens (?) also to be the girls’ housecleaner or something. Petibon is not quite put to idomatic use here. (Here is idiomatic Petibon, from an opera about Guilio Cesare that is not by Handel. Also here: Se il mio dolor from Scarlatti’s Griselda. On stage she is sort of a . . . a French Lucille Ball, if that makes any sense.) But because of the way the whole thing is set up, none of the comedy is actually funny. This is probably intentional, given the type of operation this is. Herr Guth is not a fan of comedy being . . . you know, funny. Anyway, Petibon has one of those light, agile and personality-filled voices that is perfect for this part and she sails through the music while doing and/or wearing a series of increasingly daft things. Indeed, she seriously rips shit up in “Una donna a quindici anni.”

I never noticed that there is a little snippet of the slow movement of Mozart’s 40th symphony in the “dove sono?” scene at the end of Act I. It’s about two bars, but he fools around with it for a while.

Remember Don Giovanni in the woods? Well, they found a way to recycle those trees. They start out in the background, the way trees should, but the damned things are taking over the girls’ apartment by Act II. I shit you not – if it made even slightly more sense, it might be disturbing. (Yes, yes, I know, nature taking over. It makes perfect sense. Except that IT DOESN’T.)

Also, as far as creeping dirt is concerned, by the poisoning scene at the end of Act I, Ferrando and Guglilemo look like they tried to mug a chocolate fountain.

Oh, yes. Ferrando and Guglielmo. Nothing awful here, and nothing exciting. In this instance, the two soldati are the type of EuroDudes that we all tried to avoid at clubs back in college. Topi Lehtipuu (Ferrando) has a sort of thumpy, just-a-little-too-wide vibrato that louses up what would otherwise be a perfectly serviceable “un aura amorosa”. While I am on the subject of casting: the Dorabella here is one Isabel Leonard, who is sometimes not right on the note and doesn’t ever quite get to the emotional punch of the music, but she appears to be very young, so time may change all that. More on Miah Persson’s Fiordiligi later.

Poor Skovhus. He doesn’t get any competition for Sweatiest Opera Singer in this case. (Where is Roschmann when you need her? The lady sweats like a marathoner. There is something rather appealing about it. I think it’s because it’s part and parcel of her take-no-prisoners musical persona, which I admire in the extreme.) Anyway. I always like listening to Skovhus. I’m not sure precisely what it is, but it’s something.

Ach! The trees. By the time we have got to “fra gli amplessi” they have brought the dirt and the pinecones with them. I feel like I’m halfway to Narnia. Is that a bus shelter in the distance? I’m getting excited now. How far will those pinecones get? HOW FAR?

Petibon just performed the most convincing rendition of “watch this eighteenth-century opera buffa notary turn into Michael Jackson” that I have ever seen. Ever. I won’t claim that this is worth the price of the DVD in and of itself, but note that I bring it up as a possibility.

And here we are at the end of my notes. I have more to say about this, but it can wait.

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