Archive for the ‘Così 2009’ Category

Così 3

October 6, 2009

Tonight again courtesy of my friend who is in it to Opera Australia’s Così fan Tutte.

My seat was a little further back than the last time, and it seems the attendance is improving. Then again, it may just be the loyal Tuesday subscription audience, an audience that, my taxi-driving-opera-following friend Sk maintains, is particularly devoted to the form.

On the way into the Gents at interval I said “Hullo, Peter” to PS, a longterm Quadrantine (I try not to hold that against him) and my English I tutor [31 years ago], as he was on his way out. That’s my tutor for Literature – amazing! We had another tutor for “Language”, and that is another story, but I bet they don’t have 2 tutorials a week in English I these days. PS was a bit nonplussed – I have the same problem as a former teacher occasionally greeted by ex-students/pupils, though I am sure he has more. I didn’t like to tell him that I gave the last of his novels in my possession to 2MBSFM a couple of years ago, though authors surely have to grow accustomed to this.

After interval, tiring of the constricted sound from our miserable orchestra pit, I moved to the front row. I encountered a strangely uptight neighbour, who had stowed all her (numerous) possessions on and under the empty seat. When I expressed a desire to sit in it, she asked to see my ticket! (Ironical, given that my ticket was for a considerably more expensive seat, albeit discounted. I am astounded that I nevertheless showed it to her.) I assured her that I would be able to move if the rightful owner [actually: for lawyers, licensee: the distinction has some fascinating consequences] arrived. She made some remark about not disrupting the performance if that person arrived. I was (inwardly) confident nobody would, as proved to be the case. Things were a bit frosty between us after that. I wish I could have done more to annoy her, though probably I had done enough.

There is a point, probably when you have gone to a third performance, when you risk becoming a bore about the details of a production (as opposed to about the people you sat next to). Are they details which you simply missed before, or is a little coarse acting creeping in? I thought a little finger-wagging by Fiordiligi/Rachelle Durkin on the first occasion Henry Choo assayed her breasts (a reprise of the “yes/no” moment in La ci darem da mano) fell into the latter category. In other notes: RD handled the lower-register moments (which are the very difficult and exposed parts) better than before.

The principals were trying on their microphones for size and technical difficulties in anticipation of the broadcast on ABC2 next week.

I found myself moved to tears in Ferrando’s aria where, though he feels betrayed by Dorabella, he declares he still loves her. (At least, that’s the way it goes in the present translation.) I don’t really know why.

Così 2

October 2, 2009

Concerned at news of half-full houses for Così, I gratefully accepted an offer from someone involved in the production of a company rush ticket to see it again.

At company rush prices, and given my accidental enforced holiday at home as a result of abandoning other plans in order to make my trip West, I could easily go to every remaining performance, subject to clashes.

Perhaps I will. The main thing which may deter me is the length of the piece. That seems ridiculous – surely in opera as in life, if two hours are good, then four hours (OK: 3) are better. And I have no problem or even fears of length with, say, Der Rosenkavalier, Marriage of Figaro (give me even those “extra” arias!) or Wagner. I don’t even have a memory of the same feeling about Cosi when I last saw it.

My copy of the 1969 edition of Kobbe’s Opera Guide was a present to my grandmother from a man whose late in life proposal of marriage she rejected, adhering instead to widowhood, and itself presented to him “with respect and affection from his many friends in St Albans Military Band, Cardiff” probably shortly before his embarcation to return to Australia, judging from the further inscription “Cabin 87, Promenade Deck.” There are numerous enthusiastic annotations, favouring composers who favour the brass section, and therefore Wagner most of all. The entry for Così fan Tutte is unannotated. In it, “H” [Lord Harewood] writes:

The opera ‘plays’ slower than either Figaro or Don Giovanni, and it is by no means short, but the stage action is as full of life as the music, and the opera is the ideal piece for a musically sophisticated audience.

Earlier in the same (lengthy) paragraph he writes of the opera as:

The truth is inescapable: in Così fan Tutte Mozart surpassed even himself in the richness and variety of his invention, in the impeccable skill with which the slenderest drama is adorned with music, in the creation of beauty. The idea is as light as a feather, and yet the music which clothes it suggests not only the comedy which is on the surface and which remains the most important part of the opera, but also the heartbreak which is behind the joke hat goes too far and occasionally takes a serious turn.

The paragraph as a whole extols the virtues of da Ponte’s book, particularly as effecting a symmetrical construction which “provide[s] Mozart with oppportunities for some incomparable music.” Harewood considers nineteenth century criticisms of the libretto as odd, and endorses Professor Dent’s view that the libretto “cannot be judged in a summary [in particular, I take it, a plot summary] but must be seen in all its details.”

This is probably the conventional judgment, and it has at least something behind it: that is the sense in which, as I started quoting Harewood, it is an opera for a “musically sophisticated” audience. A feature of the work is the way in which a very wide range of moods and situations (comedy, of course also the mock drama of the announcement by don Alfonso that the men are to go to war – over in a flash, jealous masculine rage; wronged womanly rage, absolute despair, military music, folksy-dancy music, evening-outdoors wind band music, schmoozy seduction and betrayal (by a man) of a woman in love) flash before you kaleidoscopically.

Well, sometimes they don’t flash but linger rather a long time at a certain poignant point. The moments where the opera seemed long were those points which felt to be lingering a bit too long – that’s circular, of course, but for me those points were most of all in Fiodiligi’s big arias. I’m not sure that RD is the ideal vocal type for this part, but then again I’m not sure that anyone is. The problem is the extremes of low and high registers – it’s hard to find anyone who can deliver both – as well as the length of arias which don’t really materially advance the in any event conspicuously contrived plot.

In this production, the singers also have to meet some quite demanding physical requirements, including topless (for the men) and in bathing costumes and later quasi-negligees (for the women). As Andrew Byrne points out (he is not keen on this) this necessarily restricts the field from which revivals can be cast.

That’s a tricky issue (let’s be honest: we are talking about fat and old singers who will be disadvantaged by this: even the tall/short pairing could be rejigged to work the other way) especially because it brings us right to the perennial issue of opera, as expressed in Capriccio, a work which I think has the same intention towards sophisticated listeners that Così has.

After all, Così was brought to the public by the same team who had already brought them Figaro and Don G. Both of those operas concentrated on men behaving badly, with exhibitions along the way of most of the range of moods I have mentioned above as being on display in Così.

Così is a sequel and a comic but in the end wry answer: You think men are like that? [And this premise is uncontested.] Women [contrary to the almost all wronged women of the previous two operas] are no better or different.

The plot is a confection of opportunities for Mozart to dip in and out of the styles by way of reprise with which his audience was already familiar.

Thinking through all of this has actually made me feel a little more forgiving of OA’s publicity department. Visually, it is clear that they have chosen to emphasise the youth and hence (to non-regular opera goers) dramatic credibility of the cast. Jim Sharman is involved: they want to reach people who might otherwise be going to the theatre.

By now, one sure fire way to bridge the divide would be to offer tickets at reduced prices which are more commensurate with theatre tickets.

Leaving that aside, I think an approach to a younger, “theatrical” audience may be too broad to be effective. But what, more specific than that, should be said?

My own attempt is clearly too lawyerly but just meant to show how hard a more specific pitch might be to formulate.

Hey! [I cringe but I’m leaving that there as the obviously fake mock-[over]familiarity of the middle aged addressing the youth.] You saw or have heard of Figaro and Don Giovanni? [Pitched too high?] They were Mozart and da Ponte’s late eighteenth century dramas about men and their sexual restlessness and aggression. Figaro is a comedy where the lustful siegneur is outwitted by his wife and his servants; Don Giovanni is a tragedy but in musically in the style of a comedy, which ends with Don Giovanni going to hell, but not before wreaking a fair bit of havoc. In Così fan tutte the same pair teamed up to write a show about the faithlessness of women. It’s kind of Sondheim territory for its time. The plot is contrived but contrived in the end to tell a wry moral. In it, Mozart packs a sample book of practically every trick he had in his book as a composer of dramatic music. This production by veteran director Jim Sharman, takes a fresh look at how the opera is, as its secondary title declares ” A school for lovers.” It’s in English. It’s technologically inventive. A young energetic and physically credible cast throw themselves into it and the audience has responded with laughter and applause.

Mind you, that’s not so different from what their own more detailed PR blurb says already.

School for lovers

September 17, 2009

A short note as, in the middle of some personal concentration of drama and upheaval, I have just been to the opening night of Così fan tutte.

It’s a new production, in contemporary garb, directed by Jim Sharman. I don’t normally get to opening nights, and even less of new productions, so I don’t know to what extent I should discount audience reaction for claque-ish elements, but even making a generous allowance for that, the production is a success and even, possibly, a hit.

There is maybe a bit much of this projected-action-filmed-live-on-stage (there is a cameraman who wanders on from time to time). I’m just guessing: is this a thing which has only recently become more technologically possible? How else to explain its repetition as a theatrical device in recent productions?

The opera itself is full of beautiful music including what seem to me to be pastiches by Mozart of himself, albeit at times superior to the originals. There is even a reprise in the production of Figaro’s denunciation of women with the houselights up. My neighbour (we were in row C) got a guernsey on the big screen.

It’s well cast. My only misgivings are about Jose Carbo’s singing as don Alfonso, which starting (I think) out of zeal for the [English, colloquially translated] words, ends up somewhere near musical theatre. I would rather his diction and hence his singing stayed a little closer to the other men’s approach, mostly for musical reasons, some of which start out from the effect of translation on the musical line.

Henry Choo gave a very impressive account of his big aria (Un’aura amorosa). Mozart tenor arias are notoriously treachorous but he really managed to fill out the long phrases. If there was a price in expenditure of vocal stamina (and there were signs of that towards the end of a long evening) it was worth paying.

The title can be translated as “Women are all like that.” (That is, in particular, fickle.) For this, the opera is said to be misogynistic. For intelligent adults, however, whatever it says about women applies to men from the opposite or complementary point of view.