A Controversial Così
GIUSEPPE PENNISI was in the audience
at Teatro dell'Opera di Roma
at Teatro dell'Opera di Roma
Something strange happened at Teatro dell'Opera di Roma on 18 January 2017 where I sat in row 15 seat 6. Normally, Teatro dell'Opera audiences are quite tame and quiet, and after more than three and half hours of performance, they would then run to the cloakroom, all the more on a freezing night, to reach a taxi or the underground. Instead, when the curtain closed on the last notes of the new production of Mozart's Così fan tutte, there were almost ten minutes of applause for the conductor, the soloists, the chorus and the orchestra. This was followed by a full battery of boos for stage director Graham Vick and his collaborators for stage setting and costumes.
Yet, the opera is well known (see 'Eros and Philosophy', 6 August 2016) and Graham Vick is a stage director who won several awards in Italy (six Premio Abbiati, the highest Italian awards for opera) and elsewhere (eg Commander of the British Empire and Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et de Lettres). The plot is conceived as the contrast between Enlightenment, on the one hand, and affections and sex instincts, on the other. In short, a dark comedy on the struggle between Enlightenment and its rationalism, on the one hand, and sentiments and erotic love on the other.
At the end, there is no winner: the final scene is open as the confrontation continues ... maybe forever. Musically, the first act is full of fun and games, whilst the second is sober as the protagonists betray, and are betrayed by, each other. At the basis of the intrigue, the tutor of two Neapolitan youngsters suggests that they try to prove the loyalties of their girlfriends by each courting, in disguise, the girlfriend of the other; they all fall into the trap.
As the original title was 'The School for Lovers', Graham Vick staged the plot in a school which seems more a grade school than a senior high school or even one of the initial years of the University. Ferrando (Juan Francisco Gatell) wore Bermudas, Guglielmo (Vito Priante) looked like a disheveled kid. Fiordiligi (Francesca Dotto) was in rather cheap dresses and Dorabella (Chiara Amarù) in attire that emphasized rather than disguised that she is a bit chunky.
Don Alfonso (Pietro Spagnoli) was a middle aged school teacher and Despina (Monica Bacelli) a cleaning lady of uncertain age.
To make things worse, the two 'boys' disguise themselves as sort of Imams.
Readers can see the school and the shabby costumes from the photos. Of course, there is no room for the philosophical aspect of the bittersweet dramma giocoso skillfully written by Lorenzo Da Ponte and for the ambiguous music by Mozart. Graham Vick is a divinity in the operatic world, but at times even divinities make wrong decisions. To his merit, I can say that the acting is very carefully and skillfully linked to the music, especially in the first part.
Fortunately, the musical aspects were excellent. The orchestra was magnificently conducted by Speranza Scappuci, also at the fortepiano during the recitatives. Gatell sang with a clear voice which enveloped the audience. Priante is a solid well rounded baritone. Dotto and Amarù alternated very well the dramatic arias (eg Come Scoglio) with lighter ones, and funnier parts.
Spagnoli is a well rounded bass and Bacelli a very good mezzo. They are also excellent actors. They deserved all the applause they could get.