Decent Singing in a Frivolous, Humdrum Così fan tutte

GermanyGermany  Mozart Così fan tutte:Soloists,Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden, Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden/Omer Meir Wellber (conductor), Semperoper, Dresden, 12.6.2014  (MC)

Cosi Fan Tutti, Dresden © Matthias Creutziger-400
Cosi Fan Tutti, Dresden © Matthias Creutziger


Fiordiligi: Emily Dorn
Dorabella: Barbara Senator
Ferrando: Mert Süngü
Guglielmo: Christoph Pohl
Despina: Ute Selbig
Don Alfonso: Georg Zeppenfeld

Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden
Direction: Andreas Kriegenburg
Sets: Harald Thor
Costumes: Andrea Schraad
Lighting: Stefan Bollinger
Dramaturgie: Stefan Ulrich


After reporting on a large number of orchestral concerts in Dresden it was good to be back in the Semeroper for an opera production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte. But as soon as the curtain opened my heart dropped to my boots. Before my eyes eighteenth century Naples had been reduced by director Andreas Kriegenburg to a stage comprising of what I can best describe as a large white disc marginally elevated and set on a slightly acute angle. This concept is nothing new and I knew I was in for endless occasions with cast members sitting on the edge of the disc swinging their legs. More than likely Kriegenburg was working with a tight budget but for goodness sake could he not have tried to be imaginative and not reverted to this well used idea that looked as if it had been devised as a junior school play project? In Act One the white disc was dressed with six, two metre or so wide cloth curtains suspended from the roof that hung down to reach the disc. For the second act the white disc held ten white park benches positioned close to the edge. It is amazing what can be done with a limited budget. I recently saw a low budget production of Don Pasquale at the Cuvilliés Theatre directed by Brigitte Fassbaender for the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz, Munich which was terrific.

With regard to the costumes designer Andrea Schraad decided to treat the opera singers rather like circus clowns. For the first act Schraad dressed up the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, both ladies from Ferrara, in pastel coloured dresses as if they were off to a children’s party. Fiordiligi wore a wig of blonde ringets and a peach coloured dress with underskirt ruffles and Dorabella with frizzy dark brown hair swept up and out like a moustache on her top of her head had to wear a most bizarre looking concertina puffball number in lemon. A welcome soothing balm for the eyes in act two Fiordiligi and Dorabella were more soberly dressed wearing traditional white bridal dresses. Schraad didn’t let the men off lightly either, the two young soldiers Ferrando, betrothed to Dorabella, and the taller Guglielmo, fiancée of Fiordiligi were both dressed ridiculously as a cross between Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy with baggy pants and braces wearing little moustaches. Ferrando sporting a red carnation and Guglielmo a white carnation seemed to spend most of their time on stage rolling about on the floor. In truth all that was missing was the slapstick of pushing custard pies into each other’s faces. I think Schraad had lost interest by the time she reached Despina and Don Alfonso. The sisters maid Despina got off lightly, mainly only having to wearing a grey dress made to look something like servants’ attire with the addition of a small white apron and was first seen whisking a small bowl of liquid. Don Alfonso the old philosopher who didn’t look very old at all was rigged out soberly in a dark suit with his grey hair tied back in a pony-tail. To show that I don’t have a totally curmudgeonly view of the costume I did relish seeing the unit of soldiers in their traditional uniforms; smart red tunics crossed with white webbing, dark trousers, black boots and black shako helmets. Sadly but not surprisingly all that descended into near farce later when the soldiers began walking like drunks and acting more like boy scouts that soldiers. Maybe hoping that no one had noticed to increase the number of soldiers in the cast a number of women were dressed as soldiers which looked ridiculous.

After all that near childish approach to set and costume it was a relief that Mozart’s glorious music hadn’t changed. At the helm conductor Omer Meir Wellber did a steady job directing the recitatives from a harpsichord snugly positioned in the pit. Whether it was spontaneously or not I don’t know but at one point in the performance Wellber on his harpsichord momentarily broke out into the Lennon–McCartney tune Yesterday. If Kriegenburg’s direction was not to my taste the quality of the singing was a great improvement and of course Mozart’s music was glorious. The three women are all sopranos and Barbara Senator in the role of Dorabella had the strongest voice. Senator’s attractive fluid tones were confirmed in her act two aria È amore un ladroncellothat carried so well through the house. A very fine expressive actress Emily Dorn singing Fiordiligi is a member of the Semperoper young ensemble. The promising Dorn has a decent voice not especially strong with a girlish quality coming across at times noticeably in her act two aria Per pietà, ben mio, perdona. I became aware of Dorn’s slightly fluttery vibrato but it didn’t intrude too much. A highlight was Dorabella and Fiordiligi’s act one duet Ah guarda sorella and Prenderò quel brunettino from act two provided some impressive interplay as the soprano voices blended together admirably. The quintet Sento, o Dio, che questo piede è restio was extremely well done and I immediately wanted to hear it again. With the sisters sat/knelt on the floor with Don Alfonso the renowned trio Soave sia il vento was also delightfully performed, softly but movingly. A member of the Semperoper young ensemble Mert Süngü as Ferrando had replaced Christopher Tiesi. Whilst not having the most striking voice in the cast Süngü showed real potential making the best of his talents consistently singing and acting well in his act two aria Ah, lo veggio. Also worthy of mention Ferrando’s act two duet with Fiordiligi Fra gli amplessi was tasteful and rather touching. Guglielmo sung by Christoph Pohl displayed an excellent baritone which I found smooth with a respectable diction although his word endings did rather fade off in his act two aria Donne mie, la fate a tanti. A real high spot was Guglielmo’s act two duet with Dorabella Il core vi dono so elegantly done with disarming tenderness. Ute Selbig as Despina used her soprano voice strongly, producing a dark rather mezzo quality to her lower register. Selbig showed unyielding musicality and her fine capability as an actor too. In Despina’s early act II aria Una donna a quindici anni the soprano coped wonderfully providing assurance and gravitas. Sounding like a low baritone Georg Zeppenfeld in the bass part of Don Alfonso conveyed a conspicuous dark coloured tone and clear diction. Zeppenfeld sang well in his short act one aria Vorrei dir, e cor non ho although at times I wondered about the potency of his projection.

Decent enough singing from the soloists but with such frivolous direction this humdrum production of Così fan tutte is best forgotten.

Michael Cookson