Monday, May 11, 2009

Love’s Labours Belaboured

Sam Shirakawa was back in Cologne to catch a performance of Mozart's Cosí fan tutte:

7 May 2009

Having heard most of the Mozart’s stage works that I've attended performed in large international opera houses, I’m always struck by the pleasure I find in even a faulty production, whenever I hear it in theaters less cavernous than, say, the Met or Covent Garden. Mozart composed for the masses, but in small gatherings. The architecturally distinguished home of the Cologne Opera is hardly a hole-in-the-wall, but it’s just the right fit for the revival of Michael Hampe’s virtually fault-free, no-frills 2006 production of Cosí fan tutte.

He’s retained the locale – the Bay of Naples – but he’s moved the period from the 18th century to what looks like the 1930s, if his sets and Carlo Tomassi’s quietly elegant costumes are anything to go by. Despite a penchant for grey, their production still sparkles by leaving most of the pep-work to Mozart’s contrapuntal wit and librettist Lorenzo da Ponte’s cheerful irony.

The rest of the labors, of course, are carried out by Christopher Mould’s stylish conducting and a cohesive cast that’s drawn from company’s resident roster. Katharina Leye and Adriana Bastidas Gamboa as Fiordiligi and Dorabella respectively have just the right weight and agility to convey their weaknesses as characters, as they fall prey to their lovers’ scheme to test their constancy. Gerardi Garanciano’s Gugliemo and Benjamin Bruns’ Ferrando purvey more than enough charm to outshine the peculiar side of their characters: Have these guys nothing better to do than to embarrass their sweethearts? Werner van Machelen as the instigator of the plot Don Alfonso gives the winking impression that his bet against the ladies' fidelity is a guaranteed win. Claudia Rohrbach’s irresistable Despina consistently proves that a resourceful maid is always mistress to her mesdames.

It would be churlish to pick out arias and the way this singer or that one has with them in this performance. The artists work as a team, interacting and relating to one another in ways that you rarely find at international houses, where Grabbing the Spotlight is the name of the game. Which leaves me to wonder whether I'm getting the right point of all the delightful shenanigans the Mozart and da Ponte concoct: If all women are fickle, aren't men all the more fatuous for loving them no less?

© Sam H. Shirakawa

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