on 2 November 2013
Cosi Fan Tutte is Mozarts greatest opera (even finer than Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro or Idomeneo)and consequently the greatest opera ever written by anyone. The five stars is for Mozart not for Michael Haneka, and certainly not for his version of Cosi. In this version Despina is very sad (in fact I got fed up with seeing her miserable face) and married to Don Alfonso - Cosi is an Opera Buffa, a comedy and this makes no sense at all. Dorabella's aria E amore un ladroncello is omitted and any applause for individual numbers suppressed. Haneka does handle the end of Cosi Fan Tutte well however, something I've rarely seen. Three & a half stars would be appropriate I think (you can't ruin Cosi)and as for Haneka - not as bad as I feared. 23/12/13 - MPC.
Despite coming up with a brilliant and brutal depiction of Don Giovanni for the Paris Opera a few years ago, it's hard to imagine what the Austrian film director Michael Haneke could find of interest in what is perhaps the least substantial of Mozart's mature operas, or at least the lesser of the composer's collaborations with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. A light amusement at the School for Lovers by the director of Cachè/Hidden? It doesn't take too long however to recognise a distinctive twist on the discord between the two couples in the work. Two couples? There would appear to be three couples in Haneke's version, the other one being made up of Don Alfonso and Despina. This unconventional couple don't so much dispense a lesson in love here as exhibit a cruel streak towards the gender politics in the work and attacks middle-class complacency. Some 'Funny Games' here perhaps?
Or perhaps 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses'? Haneke sets the production in what looks at first glance like a soirée at a French chateau, where some of the guests wear modern-day formal dinner-party dresses while others wear 18th century costumes. Is it a fancy dress party where costumes are optional, or is the director attempting to make a distinction between modern and rather older-fashioned attitudes towards love and affairs? Whatever the reason for the disparity, the dress, the corrupting behaviour and the attitudes expressed by this Don Alfonso in his assessment that women are not capable of being faithful is far from playful. There's a suggestion rather that he has rather more sinister motives for setting the couples of Dorabella and Ferrando and Flordiligi and Gugliemo against each other. His partner in crime Despina likewise seems to have a point to prove through her complicity in the events that ensue.
The allusions to near contemporary 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses' might be coincidental (or just in my own mind), but they are certainly in the spirit of the method that Haneke employs here. We might believe that our attitudes are more modern, sophisticated and enlightened than those expressed in the period of Mozart, Da Ponte and Choderlos de Laclos, but are we really all that different? As in his film Hidden, Haneke typically suggests that there are deeper, darker, less acceptable impulses involved that we'd rather not openly acknowledge. It's significant perhaps in this respect that there is no real effort made to put Ferrando and Gugliemo into convincing disguises that would fool their partners. Their real feelings and baser impulses in the nature of their seduction of each other's partner is undisguised, and perhaps even the women know it and are complicit on some level too. It's a rather mean-spirited view of the characters in Così Fan Tutte and of humanity in general, but what else would you expect from Michael Haneke?
If there's a characteristic cruelty in Haneke's reading of the work, there is however no violence expressed at all in the musical performance. Sylvain Cambrelling's conducting of the Madrid orchestra is soft, delicate and as beautiful as the score is capable of being. Rather than work against Haneke's intentions, the director uses the gentility of the performance here to complement or enhance the cool cynicism of his Don Alfonso. The delicate musical arrangement and lightheartedness of the libretto create an unsettling and somewhat sinister contrast then with the Master's actual expressions, his gestures and the viciousness of his behaviour. There's a similar dichotomy present in all of the characters and it's in the expression of this - as opposed to a concept that is somewhat questionable - that Haneke makes his own particular outlook on Così Fan Tutte work to some extent.
William Shimell, a baritone who has worked as an actor for Haneke (in the Oscar winning 'Amour') and for Abbas Kiarostami in 'Certified Copy' (and as it happens also played Don Alfonso in a Così for Aix-en-Provence directed by Kiarostami) is really the key player here and his acting is strong enough to make this kind of twist in his persona credible. All of the cast however have clearly been well-directed and give strong performances with Anett Fritsch in particular standing out in the role of Flordiligi. Haneke however is careful that any 'modifications' should not be at the expense of Mozart's writing and is very respectful of the vocal line. He allows the cast to sing the roles faithfully, with full expression and in perfect accordance with the performance of the music and lets the stage direction alone carry the concept. It's not a perfect Così then, Haneke taking the characters rather far from Mozart's rather more generous view of human nature without being quite adventurous enough to really carry it off. It does at least lead you to consider the work anew and question whether there aren't flaws in both views.
on 9 December 2013
I had to buy a copy of this myself (for my Mum), the production company are very mean. And they're incompetent or very stupid, they've spelt my name wrong on the DVD box! Deeply offensive, I'm sure Mozart wouldn't put up with it.
But Amazon got my name right, and the performances of my colleagues are just terrific. William Shimell