OPERA NEWS - Così Fan Tutte
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Così Fan Tutte

Zurich Opera

In Review Zurich Cosi hdl 219
Mixed doubles: Così in Zurich, with Anna Goryachova, Frédéric Antoun, Michael Nagy, Andrei Bondarenko and Ruzan Mantashyan
© Monika Rittershaus

MOZART'S COSÌ FAN TUTTE is often treated as a barrel of laughs, but Kirill Serebrennikov’s production, magnificently executed for Zurich Opera by Evgeny Kulagin (seen Nov. 4), is a welcome exception. The Serebrennikov staging focuses on the underlying darkness of Lorenzo da Ponte’s witty, elegant text. Fiordiligi and Dorabella are portrayed as two seriously overwrought, superficial young women, relying on Despina (their therapist) and clothes shopping to get them through life’s difficulties. Serebrennikov veered from tradition by having the women’s lovers, Guglielmo and Ferrando, not just conscripted into war but killed on the field of battle. The girls’ new suitors, the two “Albanians,” were enacted by two silent, threatening dancers while Guglielmo and Ferrando were present in the background singing their parts. Were they the ghosts of the two lovers or a Macbeth-like hallucination seen only by the two women? Either way, their absence paradoxically added to the emotional force of their utterings. The most heartbreaking moments in this production were the two seduction duets in Act II, where each of the sorrowing men was forced in turn to sing words of enticement while watching their girlfriends give themselves up to their new partners.

Although there were many fine things in this production, Serebrennikov failed to leave well enough alone. Every number, every piece of recitative, had to have its own directorial input. When a director decides to be his own set designer and costume designer, the danger is that there is no colleague of sufficient stature present to challenge some of his conceptual innovations. That seemed to be the case in this Così.

The acting of the four principal characters could not have been bettered, but it was the two men who stood out in terms of beauty of voice and musicianship. Andrei Bondarenko’s dark, rich baritone was a pleasure in itself, his identification with the role making him a more serious and more vulnerable Guglielmo than usual. The quality of Frédéric Antoun’s tenor reminded me of the very young Domingo, but with his voice scaled appropriately to Mozartean dimensions. His singing of “Un aura amorosa” was the musical highlight of the evening, providing us with four minutes of pure bliss.

Anna Goryachova has given unalloyed pleasure for many years to Zurich operagoers. Her Dorabella was a convincingly unhinged fashionista. But her voice has thickened, and the coloring of much of her singing was more appropriate to a Carmen than to an eighteenth-century character. From the dramatic point of view, Ruzan Mantashyan was more than adequate, but she lacked the voice and the technique for Fiordiligi, the role Mozart created for diva Adriana Ferrarese del Bene. A contemporary Viennese critic wrote of Ferrarese del Bene’s striking low register, which was simply not in evidence in Mantashyan’s singing, to the detriment of both her arias. Michael Nagy, as Don Alfonso, seemed somewhat ill at ease in this production, and his pleasant baritone failed to make its presence felt in the ensembles. Rebeca Olvera, as Despina, was unconvincing vocally and dramatically. 

The talented young conductor Cornelius Meister produced some excellently pointed playing from the scaled-down Philharmonia Zurich. However, his speedy tempos were just too fast for the orchestral players. In the overture, the woodwinds could not keep up with the rest of the orchestra in their bubbling eighth-note passages. The concluding section of the Act I sextet was a mess, and the corresponding sections of the two finales were little better. Instead of precision, so vital in Mozart, we were offered a frenetic excitement that often matched the action onstage but distanced us from the beauty of Mozart’s most sensuous opera. —Martin Wheeler

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