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.)