So, I am going to talk a little bit more about Cosi fan tutte. I have a working theory about how I like this opera to go, and I think what I prefer is a production that allows for the sort of goofy sweetness that prevents the story from being utterly revolting but at the same time doesn’t verge into the saccharine. That is why I like the ending to the Zurich 2009 version, where Fiordiligi accidentally drinks poison and dies, or the ending to the Berlin 2002 version where they all sit there staring at one another in the girls’ now trashed apartment. There has to be a little tartness – a little bit of detachment.
That Zurich version nails this quality. Much of this is due to to Martina Jankova (Despina) who has a voice that I think I might not enjoy in another context, but who is very effective here. You understand perfectly why Despina does what she does, and you sympathize with her up to a point, but she is still a real pain in the ass. Here is “che vita maledetta” through “che silenzio!” Dorabella (Anna Bonitatbus) is the one in beige and Fiordiligi (Malin Hartelius) is in white. (These two are wonderful at stealing scenes from one another – see also Come scoglio. Also, recalling Isabel Leonard’s Dorabella the other night, I think this opera works better when both the sisters are sung by women who are at least, say, 35. Not only because opera singers tend not to truly hit their game until their thirties, but also because women that age do better at spoofing the mannerisms of younger women.)
But it’s also the way this production manages to ride that fine line between goofy and serious without veering into either silly or maudlin. I think I would also be up for a production of this that went for dry, stilted and clinical (which is sort of what Guth was up to, but I kept getting distracted by the trees) but I’m not sure I would enjoy that as much. In the Zurich version we are never pulled into too much sympathy with any particular aspect of the story, but we’re never shoved out of it, either. Here is “una donna a quindici anni” and “prendero qual brunettino” (watch how the music turns into stage directions once they leave the table), and “amore e un ladroncello”. Dorabella is seriously messing with Fiordiligi, as siblings will do, and it’s quite funny. (The fruit ‘sculpture’ on the table is the result of Guglielmo’s antics during “donne mie” a scene or two earlier).