The plot of Cosi fan tutte seems quite frivolous: Two young ferrarese ladies living in Naples, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, each have a lover, Fiordiligi is with Guglielmo and Dorabella is with Ferrando. The two men, instigated by the cynical bachelor Don Alfonso, pretend to leave for war to prove the girls’ (they are 15 years old) infidelity. Despina, the housemaid, does not take that very seriously, and advises the girls to get new lovers. After Guglielmo and Ferrando left for war, they come back dressed as Albanians, and try to woo the other one’s girlfriend. By the end of the opera they succeed so well that a double marriage is planned, Fiordiligi marries Ferrando and Dorabella marries Guglielmo. Just after signing the contract a military drum is heard announcing Ferrando and Guglielmo coming back from the battlefield. Off go the two Albanians, back come Ferrando and Guglielmo, only to realize what happened and see the marriage contract. Despina is revealed to be the notary, and the sisters realize they have been deceived. All is ultimately forgiven, as the entire group praises the ability to accept life’s good times.
The importance of the text for Haneke is clear from the beginning (although the silences in the recitatives last a bit too long to fully keep the interest in 3h and 40min of opera). His Cosi fan tutte is not frivolous at all. Haneke strips the opera from all the comic parts. If for Da Ponte the dramma was giocoso, for Haneke, Despina is not the silly little chambermaid (she usually is the funny one). All the things the public typically loughs about are never funny as she communicates everything very seriously. A melancholic and sad aura hangs over the whole duration of the opera. By giving Despina a bitter and unhappy guise, one can only imagine what she went through in her life.
In Haneke’s interpretation the two men are not overly dressed-up as Albanians and in Act II they are well recognizable as the original lovers. One starts to wonder whether it’s not the girls making a fool of the men. Do they know? Did they always find the other one more attractive? There are, I believe, 2 moving strikes in Haneke’s setting: When the “wrong” couples are about to marry, Dorabella touches Ferrando’s hand (her old lover), and looks at him as if to say “I still miss you, you know…?”. And Haneke’s end is the only end which makes sense: When, at the very end, the two original couples are reunited, it is clear that nothing will be the same again (how can it be, after they were able to show so strong emotions for another person in such a short time). At the very end Fiordiligi runs from his Guglielmo into Ferrando’s arms to get a last hug. Singing the last few bars, all are hand in hand pulling at each other and on the last chord they all let go as if the chain which linked them all together was too weak. (Even Mozart, one could think, suggests that the “wrong” couples should be together, as Fiordiligi and Ferrando both sing a higher tessitura, and Dorabella and Guglielmo both a lower ones)
Unfortunately the singers are not up to Haneke’s standards. They are unable to pronounce the text in an understandable way. In fact, the recitatives, if dramatized by Haneke, are completely boring when pronounced by the singers. Acting and musical qualities vary from singer to singer. Fiordiligi and Dorabella are the two adolescents who sing touchingly and act youthfully. One wishes Anett Fritsch (Fiordiligi) didn’t save herself mainly for her two big aria’s (one in act I Come scoglio and one in act II Per pietà ben mio perdona) but overall she gave a positive impression. Her newly acquired Albanian lover is Juan Francisco Gatell. This tenor is a tad nasal but does the job. The other male lover Andreas Wolf acts and sings averagely with a not very appealing timbre. Kerstin Avemo’s Despina has good high notes, lacks the middle and lower register but interprets well the sadness and bitterness imposed by Haneke. And Don Alfonso never seems to quite understand what he is singing. And what a pain the learning of the Italian text must have been. The effort he has to put into everything he pronounces is palpable. As a singer he is very mediocre.
The single-set by Christoph Kanter is beautiful: A modern interior of a probably 17th century villa overlooking the bay. Modern dresses are mixed with 18th century ones.
Morlot is the new musical director of the Munt/Monnaie. He takes this production over from Cambreling in Madrid. Is it difficult to direct an opera directed and set by somebody else and created for another theatre? I don’t know, but what Morlot is totally incapable of is to bring a minimum of life into the opera. Morlot’s direction is monotonous and insipid. Even if he wanted to follow Haneke’s drift, he is totally unable to make the instruments sing. The accompaniment is a flat routine, sounding interminable and lifeless even compared to the recordings of the 50’s. The singers’ flaws is one thing, they are young, they will learn. But the director is meant to do more than just to stir the polenta-pot. The orchestra plays, as always with a mediocre director, its usual standard.
Music direction – Ludovic Morlot, Director – Michael Haneke, Set design – Christoph Kanter, Costumes – Moidele Bickel, Fiordiligi – Anett Fritsch, Dorabella – Paola Gardina, Guglielmo – Andreas Wolf, Ferrando – Juan Francisco Gatell, Despina – Kerstin Avemo, Don Alfonso – William Shimell, Orchestra and Chorus of De Munt, 23 May 2013