Così fan tutte in Salzburg

In August 2004 we went to Salzburg, Austria for the annual festival. As the spring chickens we are we enjoyed the most favorable youth discounts and we had bought a subscription for two concerts and an opera.
The first night was a chamber concert with the French Trio Wanderer playing Dvorak, Aaron Copland and Brahms.
The second night was Mozart’s Così fan tutte. The casting was peculiar with an old Despina and four very young lovers. The youngest (the tenor) was only 22.

To begin with we were sceptical about a prim Despina instead of a young, coquettish maid. But we soon changed our minds. Helen Donath was perfect as the girls’ governess where it for once made sense that she has so much experience of life. Together with Don Alfonso she made an almost sadistic contrast to the romantic youths. It is of course present in the libretto that Alfonso and Despina are tutors for the young couples but it was most central in this staging. The subtitle of the opera is “Ossia la scuola degli amanti”, so it was only appropriate.

Don Alfonso was portrayed by another veteran: Thomas Allen, who still has a marvelous voice. He was demonic with his marked eyebrows and wizard cloak (and not in the sweet Harry Potter way). Already during the ouverture he was shown as the master of all action. He raised a maze in which the young people on a psychological level were caught for the entire opera and in the end actually trapped them. During the opera Don Alfonso manipulated every one including orchestra, chorus and solists who he could start and stop according to his signals.

The Georgian soprano Tamar Ivery and the Latvian mezzosoprano Elina Garanca were very different personalities. One small and dark, the other tall and light. Their differences emphasized the contrasting minds of Fiordiligi and Dorabella which make them representatives for the whole gamut of emotions you run through when you are newly in love.

The boyfriends were portrayed by the tenor Saimir Pirgu and the barytone Nicola Ulivieri. They too were very different types and you had a clear notion of the couples being put together the wrong way – the short, dark man with the tall, light girl and vice versa. This confusion was further stressed by the couples’ own confusion about who dated who and who they actually wanted to date. They had put in slips of the tongue (like “Guglielmo…uhm I mean Ferrando”) and the girls sent romantic looks at their brothers in law.
To make the whole thing even more piquant it wasn’t clear whether the Fiordiligi and Dorabella knew about the wager. We are certain that Dorabella knew all along and joined the game, but if Fiordiligi knew is something we still discuss. Anyhow she was the one who had the hardest time finding her way in Don Alfonso’s labyrinth.

The performances were rock solid. The voices may not be very clear in our memories but everything formed a synthesis and there were no weak links. The older singers weren’t worn out and the younger singers weren’t too green. We would love to see Saimir Pirgu as Don Ottavio in The Royal Danish Opera’s next staging of Don Giovanni and Tamar Iveri would be our favourite for…well any role you can give her!

The scenography was wondrously timeless and beautiful. It fit with the music: Light and delicious with a slowly vertically running backdrop painted with woods, sea and sky. Through motifs and speed the backdrop created atmospheres that influenced the actions of the characters. I.e. in the beginning of the garden scene where the couples had to wait for the backdrop to reach its level. That created the perfect embaaarassing atmosphere of silence and awkward smiles affecting everything down to the small hairs in the back of our necks.

The only thing we didn’t like was when obviously symbolic elements were introduced though too hard to decipher. Disturbing.

The accompaniment was delivered by the Wiener Philharmonics and Philippe Jordan. The orchestra was naturally wonderful and Jordan was a capable opera conductor with sufficient attention on the singers.

A marvelous evening that will stay with us for a long time. We can only recommend others under 27 to take advantage of this offer. The highest quality for very little money.

/anna & marie



February 18, 2006. Opera, Reviews, Travels.

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