(Previous section here.)
So, the emotions the characters are feeling are real. These people have not turned into automatons. Ferrando (Topi Lehtipuu) really means it about that dirt. And when Ferrando is about to seduce Fiordiligi in “fra gli amplessi” there is a moment where he seems furiously angry and rather threatening – this is revenge and there’s a hint it could get unpleasant.
At the same time, the emotions don’t quite always match up with what Alfonso’s manipulations would suggest. Sometimes characters seem angry when they should not, or puzzled or blank when they should be amorous, and so on. Or their emotions are disproportionate to what they’re reacting to – the way it’s set up, Fiordiligi’s “come scoglio” feels like a revelatory over-reaction. The series of events in the opera has tapped into strong feelings, but those are perhaps not always necessarily the feelings indicated by the narrative. The production gives the impression that something else is going on here in addition to what you literally see in terms of story. You could read this as the limits of Alfonso’s powers to direct behavior – what he sets in motion doesn’t always do what he wants, and sometimes gets away from him. At the very end of the opera, after the final chorus, he freezes to the wall, with his face hidden behind one of the masks that have been hanging there through the course of the story. Ultimately, this guy is inaccessible. Or, one could turn it around: he was just a mask on the wall the whole time – these characters did this to themselves.
By the end, too, the rear wall has reappeared and the trees are no longer in sight. Things have been wrapped up – Despina grabs her motorcycle helmet and books it at the end as if she wants to have been gone five minutes ago – but this is definitely not a production that restores order at the end. Or, it’s not even that – it doesn’t feel like it really concludes. I think this may be why I don’t really love this version. Not because it doesn’t end happily (I prefer this opera not to, because it makes more sense to me that way) but because it just seems to kind of go flop at the very end rather than crystallize. You don’t get that yes feeling of something snapping together. There is a lot in this that I appreciated (there’s music in it too!) but it didn’t work for me as well as some of Guth’s other productions.
And oh yes, music. I found Adam Fischer’s interpretation of the overture enjoyable. The last recording of this opera I listened to was the one directed by Rene Jacobs on HM, and in comparison to Jacobs’s take on the overture, which is a little harder and punchier, Fischer’s version felt softer and more leisurely. There was always a sound connecting each section or phrase to the next – it felt sort of like the ‘sustain’ pedal on the piano. This production also made me appreciate Florian Boesch (Guglielmo) who consistently sounds really nice here, e.g. “non siate ritrosi” in Act I or in the “il core vi dono” duet with Dorabella (Isabel Leonard) in Act II. He also sounds good together with Topi Lehtipuu (Ferrando) – I’m not a huge fan of Lehtipuu alone in this performance, but he and Boesch blend well for whatever reason.
Miah Persson as Fiordiligi is lovely – “per pietà” is one of the best things in this. The phrasing at the beginning of it is particularly nice: you just hear this lovely, rich, golden-sounding line of sound. With Isabel Leonard (Dorabella) I am at the stage of appreciating rather than liking. Intellectually I know this is good singing, and that she’s got a really nice solid-sounding voice, but I didn’t get sucked into her performance the same way I did with Persson’s.
(sorry about Italian subtitles on video – I’m not sure what I was thinking.)
As I wrote this, I realized that for the sake of clarity I’d completely separated the discussion of the production from the discussion of the performances. I’m sitting here trying to figure out how to put them back together again, and I’m not sure I can. The things that I liked about this in terms of the orchestral playing or the individual performances were not strongly coupled with the concept of the production. (Well, except for Patricia Petibon as Despina, who tears through this music wonderfully and who is also – most of the time – quite funny when she intends to be.) It’s not that the performers were not committed to the concept of the thing – they clearly are, and it’s very well-executed. I guess it’s just that the concept doesn’t seem to lead in any direct way, in and of itself, to those moments when everything clicks and a performer can do something really wonderful with the music.