Mozart – Così fan tutte / Peter Sellars (2)

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So, Alfonso and Despina are running this diner together. Or something like that. The production implies that there is some sort of fraught personal history between the two of them. The staging and the translation of the dialogue suggest that Despina ended it because it became “torture” for them both – or at least for her. Alfonso is still entangled and entranced and every so often just stands there looking stunned. One gets the distinct impression that the reason he comes up with the wager idea with the guys is to prove some point to himself about his own issues as far as Despina is concerned.

I am not sure yet where to go with this observation, especially since the production seems to make a point of telling you that the goal is not primarily for you to sympathize with the characters. The ending has everyone spinning and twitching like broken robots – we are not really meant to enter entirely into their emotional states. Or at least we are being told not to think of the opera’s resolution in terms of resolving whatever tangle of personal relationships the series of events in the drama has produced.

And this is consistent with the general vibe of how the music comes across. The idea that one would listen to this and be deeply sucked into it as a performance of Mozart is vaguely ludicrous. Not because the performance is bad. I am not a fan of Susan Larson’s (Fiordiligi) voice, which as recorded here sounds very cold and bright and almost tinny – but she’s precise and does “weird” very well, which I think is the point. Janice Felty (Dorabella) has a sound that I liked a little better, and the way the two voices blended and followed one another precisely during the sisters’ duets was right on. The same is true of Frank Kelley (Ferrando), James Maddalena (Guglielmo) and Sanford Sylvan (Alfonso). The singing across the board had a similar quality – precise, enjoyable, but at the same time none of the cast had a voice that jumps out at you as “wow – that is an interesting sound.”

So, there is nothing really wrong with how the whole thing sounds. But I said that one is probably not intended to get sucked into this as a performance of Mozart. This is because the production undercuts that particular kind of relationship between the audience and the music. Alfonso turns several times to point at the audience and address the camera as “YOU.” (“Wipe that old fashioned look off your face!” he says at one point.) The other characters occasionally do the same thing. (In “donne mie, la fate a tanti” Guglielmo stalks out into the audience in the auditorium to address individual members of it – this reminded me of Guglielmo in the Dorris Dörrie version aiming a flashlight out into the audience, though the approach of that production is very different. There, one does get absorbed in it.) If by some strange chance you did get sucked into the interior logic of drama and music, the production spits you back out at regular intervals by looking you in the eye and reminding you that you’re there.

And this may be the point at which to address the war.

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