Mozart – Così fan tutte / Staatsoper Berlin 2002 (1) / Anyone who claims to remember this opera wasn’t really there

I guess I should get the obvious point out of the way first: if you have ever wanted to watch Hanno Müller-Brachmann caper around in nothing but a Legolas wig and a pair of tighty-whiteys, this Così is for you. If you have never wanted to watch Mr. Müller-Brachmann caper about so attired – if the thought had never even really occurred to you – if the idea leaves you bored, indifferent, or even vaguely uneasy, rest assured that this production also contains Werner Güra shirtless, a very agitated Dorothea Röschmann armed with gardening shears, and a lot of pot. Are you sold yet?

This production of Così by director Doris Dörrie is set in the 1970s.  It sounds silly at first – and the production is gloriously silly – but it works. As presented here, the 70s are a period of transition. You’ve got hippies and free love and hammocks and white people wearing saris, but you also have the lingering sexual double standard and plenty of women who feel like if they do it too much, or with the wrong person/s, they’re going to be in all kinds of trouble. Ferrando and Guglielmo are epic squares and don the trappings of hippiedom in order to seduce one another’s girlfriends; the girls, with the aid of Despina, swap their polyester dresses for flowy tie-dye and find they like it – Dorabella takes very cheerful leave of her bra – and of course it all goes wrong.

The little nudges at the grim conventions of traditional relationships are everywhere in this production. As the men prepare to leave in Act I, Dorabella makes Ferrando a sandwich while Fiordiligi frantically irons Guglielmo’s shirt. When the men ‘return’ at the end of Act II, it’s as if putting their suits back on again makes them physically meaner – Guglielmo hits Fiordiligi, while Ferrando shoves Dorabella to the floor. And even in disguise, the men are occasionally nasty pieces of work. At the end of Act I, as they are ‘recovering’ from the ‘poison’ they took, the men are wrestling the women to the floor and holding them down as they struggle. The men think this is hilarious, and although the women are perhaps not one hunded percent repelled, the scene still has a slightly unpleasant aftertaste, which I think is deliberate. It’s probably worth noting that in this scene the two sisters are wearing bathing suits (and towels) – a sort of visual reminder of vulnerability.

And this is a very visual production. Almost distractingly so – although most of it is highly entertaining. In the second scene of Act I, for example, as the girls talk about their lovers’ portraits, Fiordiligi has an actual photo of Guglielmo, whereas when Dorabella tells her sister to “osserva” she’s indicating the TV, and is clearly very impressed by whoever is on there. During “secondate, aurette amiche” the references to gentle little breezes are accompanied by everyone passing joints around.

But the main draw isn’t details like this – it’s the intensity and conviction with which the opera is performed.

(Next part here.)

4 thoughts on “Mozart – Così fan tutte / Staatsoper Berlin 2002 (1) / Anyone who claims to remember this opera wasn’t really there

  1. Coincidentally, I watched the first act of this performance last night. (well, most of it anyway.) Seeing Hanno Müller-Brachmann in his underwear is not unpleasant. I got to thinking that if a major U.S. company (koffMETkoff) even let Guglielmo strip down that far, he’d be wearing boxers. I don’t know what that has to do with anything but the mind does tend to wander during the morning commute.

    I love this performance, and appreciate the details. Last night I really noticed how twitchy Fiordiligi really is. Also, I have been trying to figure out why Dorabella’s dress nearly matches the sofa. It’s not actually the same pattern but from a distance it may as well be. What’s that about? This is probably unrelated, too, but how do they decide whether to take the stairs to the roof, or go out and climb the ladder? Am I thinking too hard about this?

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    1. It’s true – Müller-Brachmann carries it off like a champ. I agree, I’m not sure the Met would go for little underpants if they even dared to strip anyone down during this opera: boxers, if that.

      I didn’t think about the stairs/ladder difference. I don’t remember a pattern with when they used one and when the other, but I could have missed it. Given the level of detail in in this production there might well be some kind of reason.

      My theory about Dorabella’s dress is related to how deadpan she is early in the opera – she doesn’t seem to react to much, but when the seduction/partying/other hijinks start, she perks up. So maybe she’s literally blending in with the furniture when the opera begins?

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