This year's new production of "Cosi fan tutte" at the Salzburg Festival completes the trilogy of Mozart-Da Ponte operas by German director Claus Guth in the composer's home town.
Guth began his cycle with "Marriage of Figaro" in 2006, followed by "Don Giovanni" in 2008. And with "Cosi" rounding off the cycle this year, all three will be presented side-by-side next year.
Like its two predecessors, Guth's "Cosi" is slick and elegant. The sets, by his long-term collaborator Christian Schmidt, are good to look at.
And his sextet of trim, stylish young singers are almost as good to listen to.
But Guth doesn't have an awful lot new to say about Mozart's "school for lovers" and his "Cosi" ultimately comes across as a lot blander than the first two operas in the cycle.
Part of the blame must be laid at the door of Hungarian maestro Adam Fischer in the pit, whose conducting is earth-bound and pedestrian.
Guth deftly updates Mozart's "dramma giocoso" to our own time, casting the two pairs of lovers, Guglielmo-Fiordiligi and Ferrando-Dorabella, as young, affluent brokers at a party in their exclusive designer penthouse.
Don Alfonso, sung by Danish baritone Bo Skovhus, is a sinister Mephisto-like figure who haunts every scene, treating the four lovers as his marionettes.
The maid Despina (French coloratura soprano star Patricia Petibon) is a red-headed biker chick who rocks to her iPod while doing the housework.
The nightmarish forest in which Gut set his "Don Giovanni" last year returns in "Cosi", invading the protagonists' luxury apartment in Act II as a symbol of their suppressed animal desires.
One of Guth's main strengths is his psychological acuity: Guglielmo's moral dilemma after he sleeps with Dorabella in Act II is perfectly captured, as is the ambiguous final ensemble where the four lovers are no longer sure where their love and loyalties really lie.
On the musical side, the singers sound as good as they look, a few vocal weaknesses notwithstanding: German baritone Florian Boesch as Guglielmo, Finnish tenor Topi Lehtipuu as Ferrando, US mezzo Isabel Leonard as Dorabella and Swedish soprano Miah Persson as Fiordiligi. But it is only Petibon who truly stands out as Despina, fizzing with personality.
Nonetheless, Persson gave Salzburg a glimpse of what she is capable of, too, in Fiordiligi?s "Per pieta" in Act II, which she sang much more quietly and at a much slower tempo than usual, greatly increasing its emotional punch.
Claus Guth's "Cosi" is being performed six times in all in Salzburg's "Haus fuer Mozart" theatre until August 30.
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