WORKS: Cosi fan tutte
PERFORMER: Miah Persson, Isabel Leonard, Florian Boesch, Topi Lehtipuu, Patrcia Petibon, Bo Skovhus; Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna PO/Adam Fischer; dir. Claus Guth (Salzburg, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: 2072538
In this midsummer night’s nightmare of a Don Giovanni for the Salzburg Festival of 2008, Christian Schmidt designs a crepuscular forest for Claus Guth’s dark contemporary take on the opera. ‘Mine own, and not mine own’: Shakespeare’s words might indeed be the motto for these lovers and haters, trapped in their dark wood of despair.
There is many a twist in Guth’s telling: he makes Donna Anna (thrillingly sung by Annette Dasch) the prime mover in her attempted ‘rape’. She is a woman of hot desires whose unsavoury arriviste Don Ottavio (Matthew Polenzani) counterpoints his noble music with ignobility – and cannot satisfy her.
Her ‘Non mi dir’ is sung as much to an imagined Don Giovanni as to her fiancé. And it’s very much the women who have got a grip here. The rhythmic rigour of Dorothea Röschmann’s Donna Elvira splendidly embodies her fortitude; and Ekaterina Siurina’s Zerlina is in the full bloom of sensuous womanhood.
Don Giovanni and Leporello (superbly sung by Christopher Maltman and Erwin Schrott) are, by contrast, wrecks of men: the Don seriously wounded by the Commendatore from the start, and Leporello a spaced-out junkie. They are entirely co-dependent – and clearly in line for some addiction therapy.
The dead Commendatore (largely a figment of their crazed and fearful imagination) is invited to a nocturnal picnic which is a fast-food last supper. No more to be said or sung after the Don’s agonised demise in the snow. And no Act II aria for Don Ottavio – instead, Mozart’s rarely performed Vienna edition duet between Zerlina and Leporello.
Guth brings a similar view of the cynical brutality and superficiality of love and life to Così fan tutte. And, again, this production is superbly cast, with not a weak link. Bo Skovhus, as a central Mephistophelian operator de nos jours, plays a savage dance-driven double-act with Patricia Petibon’s red-haired biker of a demonic Despina. And the vacuous, alcohol-fuelled sham lives of the pairs of lovers are ripe for control and manipulation.
Within a single, minimalist duplex apartment interior, illusion and disillusion constantly shift. But, despite the musical intensity of the singing (both Guth and Adam Fischer really do draw splendid performances from every singer), the deliberate lack of emotional authenticity and engagement between these lovers – and the contrivances which Guth dares, in order to suspend our disbelief – mean that, by the end, some of the delicious ambivalence within Mozart’s emotional journey has gone missing.
The men remain little more than slick, chauvinist ciphers, though Topi Lehtipuu’s Ferrando fully deserves and fully accomplishes his virtuoso extra Act II aria, ‘Ah, lo veggio’. It really makes a difference if a tenor is capable of singing it.
There is plenty to provoke and to stimulate in both these admirably directed films – and both conductors draw fine playing and dramatic momentum from the Vienna Philharmonic. Hilary Finch