Mozart – Così fan tutte / Salzburg 2009 (2)

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So, we’ve got Alfonso as sometimes frustrated manipulator of others. This is standard for this opera, in some ways – but it doesn’t feel so in this version. Perhaps this is because Alfonso is not teaching these silly young things a lesson. Rather, he appears to be manipulating them out of a kind of compulsion. I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that part of the vulnerability that is being showcased here is Alfonso’s.

It’s not just via their susceptibility to being literally jerked around by Alfonso that we see the two couples’ weaknesses. One of the things I noticed on watching this again is the lighting. During “suave sia il vento” in Act I, as they wave goodbye to their departing sweethearts,  the two women’s shadows are projected very starkly on the wall behind them. There’s a visual doubling that mimics the doubling and swapping of the couples – it’s worth noting that when they return in ‘disguise’ the men are wearing not masks or even moustaches but rather just white suits, and the swapped pairings are not always consistent – after the men drink poison at the end of Act I, initially the two women are comforting their ‘real’ fiancés.

But about those shadows. There is a lot of raising and lowering of light in this production. It’s often dark when characters are at a moment of vulnerability – Alfonso cuts the power out for Fiordiligi’s “come scoglio,” for example, and she has to feel her away down the stairs with a flashlight.

And this is where the trees come in. During “ah, che tutto in un momento” near the end of Act I, as the characters are reflecting on how their situation has suddenly changed, Alfonso causes the back wall of the apartment to vanish, revealing the dark woods. By the beginning of Act II, the woods have crept into the apartment in the form of two trees and a layer of pine needles and dirt on the floor. By this point in the opera, everyone is indeed feeling vulnerable – the walls have come down and things are not as antiseptically bright as they are in the opera’s very first scene. I say antiseptically with reason, because the four lovers at this point are physically grimier than they were earlier — all that dirt! But interestingly, it’s the men who get really dirty. During “tradito, schernito” Ferrando is literally rubbing handfuls of dirt all over himself. Which makes sense. After all, these guys have begrimed themselves in the course of carrying out their ‘test’ of their girlfriends. They are the ones who let the forest into the house.

The penetration of the house by the trees/forest also made me wonder if something isn’t being said here about motivations. Ferrando and Guglielmo let the woods into the house, yes.  But they’re Alfonso’s woods. He raises the wall. Those dark woods out there are Alfonso-space. A person could read the woods/house barrier as a question about where motives come from – within, or outside? The emotions are real, but that doesn’t mean that their sources are entirely internal.

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12 thoughts on “Mozart – Così fan tutte / Salzburg 2009 (2)

  1. My thought was that the invasion of the forest is a reference to Guth’s “Don Giovanni”. The darker moral world of DG is invading the blithe, if not exactly innocent, world of these rather thoughtless rich young people. It’s clear that Guth intends us to see the three operas as linked and there are plenty of references to Figaro in this production too.


    1. I had the same thought – the forest is identical. It’s like looking out of cosi fan tutte and into Don Giovanni. That dark forest is out there, and Don Giovanni takes place entirely within it – it’s been sort of swallowed by it – while it merely threatens and nearly invades this opera. If one thing connects all three of Guth’s Mozart productions, it’s that there is a darkness and ambiguity in Mozart’s music (and Da Ponte’s words) that (esp. in the case of Cosi and Figaro) doesn’t always come across in conventional productions: but here it definitely does.


  2. The stark lighting and shadow thing seems to be another Guth-ism. I noticed it in Ariadne during the prelude mostly. Also in his Messiah (of which I am working on a reveiw) he uses the strong shadows a lot, partciuarly in lighting the chorus. I have not gotten deeply enough into the research, but I wonder if he uses the same lighting designer for these productions. (“OK Horst, just do that light/shadow thing here.”)


      1. I need to watch that Ariadne again! I didn’t notice that quality of the lighting the first time.

        Re: swapped pairings inconsistent: now I’m going to be looking for this elsewhere as well. Microtrends in Mozart stagings . . . .


          1. It occurs to me that in some of the circles in which I move in Toronto the “fluid pairings” would not seem at all unusual; indeed might be seen as a fairly small subset of the possible permutations!


        1. I saw CFT in Munich last June and there was this inconsistency apparent as well: Ferrando was the favorite of both girls. At the end the girls begged for forgiveness from the wrong men (Fiordiligi from Ferrando, and Dorabella from Guglielmo): Dorabella recovered from the mistake quite quickly, but it took some pushing and shoving before Fiordiligi returned to Guglielmo.


          1. It sounds like playing around with the pairings in a variety of ways is pretty common – I haven’t seen cosi on stage (rather than on dvd) in ages: the last time was in New York a few years ago and that was a fairly conventional version.


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