Madrid Così: That’s how Haneke Does It

SpainSpain W.A.Mozart, Così Fan Tutte: Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus Teatro Real, Sylvain Cambreling (conductor), Madrid Teatro Real, 4.3.2013 (JMI)

New production Teatro Real in coproduction with Brussels’s La Monnaie

Direction: Michael Haneke
Sets: Christoph Kanter
Costumes: Moidele Bickel
Lighting: Urs Schönebaum

Fiordiligi: Annet Fritsch
Dorabella: Paola Gardina
Ferrando: Juan Francisco Gatell
Guglielmo: Andreas Wolf
Despina: Kerstin Avemo
Don Alfonso: William Shimell

Among the changes Gerard Mortier brought to Teatro Real is his focus on stage productions and the prominence given to media coverage of his shows. If an opera house produces something that the international press did not cover, it apparently did not happen. By that standard, Gerard Mortier has made things happen, since his arrival in Madrid. Certainly the premiere of the The Perfect American had plenty world-wide coverage (see S&H review here), ditto this production: Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke’s Così fan tutte. Obviously, media coverage is very important again and in this sense the Teatro Real has come a long way, but whether this coverage-chasing policy works in favor of the opera-goer is a different matter. In this case, fortunately it did, with Teatro Real almost completely sold out and the audience having had an audibly good time.

And indeed, Haneke’s Così fan tutte is a truly outstanding achievement. The staging is elegant and attractive: a large modern lounge with a window at the back, peopled with attractive costumes. But what impress me most are Mr. Haneke’s stage direction and the rarified, outstanding performances he commends. His Don Alfonso (William Shimell) is a kind of cynical Mephistopheles, who pulls the strings with impressive coolness (aided by his ‘wife’ Despina) placing both the young couples in more than embarrassing situations, greatly aided by alcohol—which plays a major role in this production.

available at Amazon
W.A.Mozart, Così fan tutte,
R.Jacobs / Concerto Köln / Bernada Fink, Veronique Gens et al.
Harmonia Mundi

Haneke gives prominence to the recitatives, which become an essential part of the opera, though on occasion the silences last too long and interrupt the flow of the music. Putting a stage production is at the core of a performance can be quite questionable and there are interpretative inconsistencies to content with, but I suppose you can always blame the booze!

Musically, things were not at the same level. Sylvain Cambreling seemed to be infected by Haneke penchant for slowness, or perhaps he simply gave in to the concept, but his reading was in any case tedious—especially in the first act. More inspirational conducting was needed as even the orchestra was not at its usual excellent level.

Vocally, the cast was rather modest. The six characters were extremely well suited to the dramatic demands and they all shone as actors… particularly Shimell’s Don Alfonso and Annet Fritsch’s Fiordiligi. Incidentally, the German soprano was also best voice on stage, leaving a very positive impression with very expressive singing in addition to all her other dramatic and superficial assets. Coming, as she does, with the whole package, she can look forward to an impressive career.

Italian mezzo soprano Paola Gardina was a good interpreter of Dorabella. Her voice is a little light, but she is a good singer and was a good complement to her on-stage sister. Juan Francisco Gatell is a very promising singer and he was a fine Ferrando even though he had some difficulties in both of his arias. Lyric baritone Andreas Wolf acted his Guglielmo better than he sang him: very much in line with the qualities that no doubt took precedence when choosing this cast. Despina is a rôle Kerstin Avemo is well suited to, thanks to her youth and stage skills. Vocally, she is a pure soubrette, with a weak middle register, no low notes and very poor top notes. William Shimell’s presence was almost obligatory in this performance, considering his collaborations in movies with Michael Haneke. I have already spoken of the actor. As a singer, he has a dry voice that sometimes takes refuge in pure parlando, and his high notes are pallid.

José Mª Irurzun