I watched this dvd for the first time nearly a year ago now, and my initial response was a sustained feeling of irritation. I watched it again this past weekend, and while I was still feeling irritated through a large chunk of Act I, I was coming around by Act II, and by the end, although I wasn’t leaping up and down and shrieking with excitement, I did not feel as if my time had been misspent.
To recap briefly, this is a regie production of Così designed by Claus Guth, some of whose productions – particularly Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro and Handel’s Messiah – I like rather a lot. This one, not as much.
It’s a modern-day version of the story. The women’s house is a spare-looking flat with a vaulted ceiling and a stairway stage left that connects to a smaller upper level. Initially, like many apartments, it has a rear wall, but this changes by the end of Act I. It also has a fireplace and gray couch which is streaked and smudged with grime by Act II because everyone walks all over it all the time, often after rolling about in the layer of pine needles which eventually covers the floor. This is one of those things that happens when your apartment lacks a rear wall. You get to explore the permeability of the boundary between the interior and the exterior. And the forest that is behind your flat gets to explore your living room. Opera trees are difficult to predict sometimes, as far as behavior is concerned. Just when you think that they are going to confine themselves to silent looming, or at the most slow rotation on a platform at predictable intervals, they’re suddenly in your house and all up in your business.
The general sense that I got from watching this production a second time is that this is an opera about power and vulnerability. The stage direction ressembles that for Guth’s Figaro in some ways – there is a mixture of completely natural gestures with much more stylized movements. Occasionally ‘dream’ versions of characters move out of nowhere to interact with the ‘real’ versions – there is an imaginary Guglielmo who lurks behind the conscience-stricken Fiordiligi during “per pietà” and again during “fra gli amplessi” rather like (if you’ve seen Guth’s Figaro) Figaro appearing in the doorway during Marcellina’s Act IV aria. And the stylized movements – again like in Figaro – often indicate that the characters are in thrall to some force that is distinct from their conscious or stated motives. In the case of Figaro it was love/disorder/I’m open to suggestions about what that was, actually. In this, the force is – or at least appears to be – Don Alfonso.
Alfonso (Bo Skovhus) is a creepy person. His gestures move the other characters around like puppets. He can light a fire in the fireplace from across the room. He goes from suavely confident to brooding to furiously angry and back but not in a way that is noticed by the other characters. Once, he springs sideways off the staircase into nowhere, and that is his exit from the scene. And although he has powers, his powers have limits. He can’t puppet Despina around in Act I until she takes off her headphones, for example. Later, he physically loses control of her in a ‘puppet’ moment during “O, la saria da ridere” and looks irked. Twice, we see him groping or gripping a door or doorframe, as if he wanted to be on the other side of it. Whoever or whatever this guy is, he can mess with people, but it’s not always easy. And the world he’s operating in overlaps with but is not identical to that of the other characters.
(Next part here.)