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This summer, the Salzburg Festival launched the first in a cycle of new productions of the Mozart-Da Ponte operas by director Sven-Eric Bechtolf with Cosifan tutte. Though Don Alfonso pulled the strings in this parlor game of mores, an amusement that resulted in a rather surprising twist of events, the old philosopher had no control over the audience's mixed reaction to the Aug. 21 premiere.

The action unfurled within Rolf Glit-tenberg's indoor arboretum, its concave, wood-and-glass frame reaching from the stage to the flies. Located centre stage was a small, circular in-ground pool surrounded by shrubbery and a couple of chairs. For Act II, the arboretum's frame remained in place, though a dining table and chairs stood in place of the shrubbery, which had been moved upstage.

The production's strongest suit was its cast. Gerald Finley was outstanding as Don Alfonso, singing throughout in dusky, burnished tones. Outfitted in a grey wig, wire-rimmed glasses, and period jacket by Marianne Glittenberg, Finley's Alfonso conjured up a roll on a snare drum with a snap of his fingers, and made a small chorus appear from behind the shrubbery with a wave of his handkerchief. Indeed, Alfonso's control was so close to absolute that in the final scene he literally had everyone singing from his part book.

As Guglielmo, Luca Pisaroni displayed a keen stage sense, and sang "Non siate ritrosi" with a robust tone. By contrast, Tyrolean tenor Martin Mitterrutzner sang with brighter hues, particularly in "Un' aura amorosa." Glittenberg dressed both in identical outfits, as though they were twin brothers. Likewise, Fiordiligi and Dorabella looked like twins in identical dresses. Vocally, however, Marie-Claude Chappuis exhibited the stronger voice as Dora-bella, best heard in "Smanie implacabili." In Fiordiligi's "Come scoglio," Malin Har-telius's low Cs, B flats and As were quite soft. Conductor Christoph Eschenbach had to take the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra down in volume not to cover her. As Despina, Martina Jankova was a hoot as the faux notary. Ernst Raffels-berger's 20-voice chorus from the Vienna State Opera was beyond reproach, and mention must be made of Enrico Maria Cacciari's very fine continuo accompaniment.

Eschenbach and Bechtolf faced some booing. Perhaps Eschenbach's gentler approach to Mozart raised some hackles. "Soave sia ii vento" verged on the flaccid, and the martial orchestral accompaniment to the "Bella vita" chorus faded out with a diminuendo as the chorus exited. There was little attempt at emulating late 18th-century performance practice beyond some ornamentation added at fermatas by the principal singers.

While the symmetry in Bechtolf's blocking was a joy, his staging also had distinctive traits of Regietheater. During the overture, the curtains opened to reveal two women, ostensibly Fiordiligi and Dorabella, bathing au nature! and being toweled dry by a female servant, the sequence just barely visible in Jurgen Hoffmann's dim lighting. During "Soave sia il vento," a female super handed toy sailboats to Fiordiligi and Dorabella, who then let them float in the pool. At the opera's end, Alfonso drank from a glass that, unbeknownst to him, contained a poison the furiously jealous Guglielmo had much earlier brought to the proceedings. As the sextet finished singing "Bella calma trovera," Alfonso's beautiful calm became his beautiful death as he dropped to the floor.--Reviews from Austria by Leonard Turnevicius
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Title Annotation:INTERNATIONAL
Author:Turnevicius, Leonard
Publication:Opera Canada
Date:Dec 22, 2013
Previous Article:Austria: St. Margarethen.
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