Così 4

On Saturday, en route to the SSO’s Mahler 1, I received an sms from my OA-insider friend, Ry: Così fan tutte was to be broadcast on Sunday on ABC1 at 2.30pm.

I have yet to enter the digital TV age so I had missed the live broadcast last year on ABC2.

I watched on Sunday and enjoyed it, though as I texted back to Ry, “What kind of a loser am i watching school for lovers on my own on valentine’s day?”

It probably helped that I knew the production well: thanks to Ry, I saw it three times (well, two times thanks to him and one time on my own account).

The TV version cuts down the Japanese wedding thang and the back projections of the live footage from the wedding video maker. We were given some video feed as the main broadcast image just very occasionally, but it wasn’t really the same effect and was pretty inexplicable because there was so little of the wedding mise-en-scène.

I thought it was pretty ungracious of them to devote the overture to credits – why not some live orchestra footage? The only saving grace of this was that in the video-over we see the original Japanese groom, who apparently broke contract on pretty much the eve of the broadcast. He was more handsome, charming and slim than his replacement, though presumably not suffficiently paid to induce him to stay when he got another offer [in lawyer talk, this is embraced or decried as part of the theory of efficient breach].

Otherwise, the TV presentation (Ry said the sound was better than on the original live broadcast) captures pretty well the strengths and also weaknesses of the performance and concept. Some of the orchestral playing comes through as rougher than it seemed live, and I was reminded of a recurrent intermittently unsatisfactory state of affairs in the cello section which I noticed again recently in Manon.

This production received a much less favourable review from Michael Shmith in the Age [“Not one of Opera Australia’s greatest nights.”] than it did from Peter McCallum in the SMH [“Opera Australia’s Mozart productions have been mixed in recent years, and this one deserves to endure.”].

Some of this is a question of a difference of approach (they do stand on their critical dignity in Melbourne, even if the sub-editor can’t spell the title of the work correctly). There is also an ongoing resentment in Melbourne over the demise of the old Opera Victoria and its “takeover” (actually: taking over the business only and paying its debts) by the then Australian Opera, now Opera Australia. Opera Australia never seems to get an easy run there these days, which is a bit of a vicious circle. Shmith wasn’t keen on Cuneo’s conducting in Melbourne, which going on his work last year in the Magic Flute is understandable.

However, I’m prepared to guess that a big reason for the less favourable reception in Melbourne is that they didn’t have Rachelle Durkin and Shane Lowrencev as Fiordiligi and Guglielmo. The video reminded me what a good job they did. Inevitably, this is a reflection on Hye Seoung Kwon and Luke Gabbedy, who took their places, but RD’s and SL’s shoes would have been big ones to step into.

For the next 10 days it’s on the ABC’s iview thing. You can see and hear for yourself if you have 3 hours or so to spare.

I’m not sure that I would have found it particularly riveting television if I hadn’t already seen the production and been able to treat the broadcast as a reminiscence. The main problem would probably have been, not so much ironically as predictably, also its main strength: that contempo-opera-in-English approach. That’s what makes some of the acting so direct and genuinely funny, but it definitely chops up the vocal lines and hence musical “beauty” something terrible.

All the same, Tim Mortimer’s tweet: “fat bogans in tracksuits singing cosi in english on ABC1” seems both harsh and superficial, even if the latter can be accounted for by the medium and its formal constraints.

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