Così fan tutte by Mozart/Da Ponte. A new COC production by Atom Egoyan, conducted by Johannes Debus. Seen on the opening night, January 18 2014. Layla Claire Fiordiligi, Wallis Giunta Dorabella, Paul Appleby Ferrando, Robert Gleadow Guglielmo, Thomas Allen Don Alfonso, Tracy Dahl Despina.
My intro to Così over on Daily Xtra
It’s a surprisingly gentle production, this Così fan tutte, with the kind of set that gets the applause at first revealing, and stylish and pretty throughout. Some of the recent non-traditional productions of the work (I’m thinking Chris Alden at the NYCO, Michael Haneke at La Monnaie) have been much harsher, but Egoyan decided not to go for the jugular and to maintain a comedic distance and the not-for-real, school lesson atmosphere.
He also decided that the girls can’t be the oblivious puppets that they are often portrayed as, and this was wonderfully refreshing. Everybody is equally in on the experiment, and since the “Albanians” remove their masks early on, the centre of the drama is the Switch. Will I let myself be seduced by my boyfriend’s best friend in this experiment, is the question before each girl. Will I pretend that I go along with the idea, what point do I really want to make? The Switch is very unstable and needs tight policing by Despina, as the girls gravitate towards their original partners, or make fun of the new arrangements and schemes, until very late in the game. Dorabella succumbs to Guglielmo almost because she is getting tired of the experiment (the “Let’s get this thing over with” attitude). Fiordiligi’s resistance seems earnest, but so does her surrender. To accompany her surrender, Egoyan prepared some nifty video work involving details of Frida Kahlo’s painting The Two Fridas. Another interesting highlight of the staging vocabulary are the gigantic pins and the butterflies. The pins especially are used to great effect by the chorus (costumed as the observing classmates) and Don Alfonso.
The Girls Aware and the Switch concept works well until the very end when the two men officially return from the war, at which point it doesn’t, but we’re near that absurd ending anyway so it doesn’t matter if all the grounds are shaking. In the finale it is (gently) obvious that nobody is coming out of the game happy, and that it’s not entirely sure that the couples will reconstitute in any form.
Musically, it was a fairly slow night, occasionally drag-y, very competent but sometimes lacking the spark and the urgency. The continuo piano, played by the Maestro Debus himself—and there was a lot of recitative, it’s a veritable talkie this opera– in contrast did come through as vivid and convincing.
Layla Claire and Wallis Giunta were remarkable as the sisters. The quartet and the sextet scenes are another vocal and dramatico-comedic standout—all well choreographed, and the singing timbres merging really well.
Runs until February 21. Details here.
All photos by Michael Cooper / Canadian Opera Company. Top: a scene with Thomas Allen as Don Alfonso. Middle: Robert Gleadow, Paul Appleby, Wallis Guinta & Layla Claire. Bottom: Layla Claire.