Dresden Semperoper: “Così fan tutte”

Dresden. Semperoper. Opera Season 2013-2014 
Dramma giocosa in 2 acts libretto Lorenzo Da Ponte
Composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Fiordiligi  EMILY DORN
Ferrando  MERT SÜNGÜ
Don Alfonso  EVAN HUGHES
Dresden Staatskapelle Orchestra of Saxony
Dresden State Opera Chorus of Saxony
Conductor Omer Meir Wellber
Chorus master Wolfram Tetzner
Director Andreas  Kriegenburg
Set designer  Harald Thor
Costumes  Andrea Schraad
Lighting  Stefan Bollinger  
Dresden. 6th April, 2014.  

In recent weeks the Semperoper in Dresden has premiered a new production of Così fan Tutte, the third and last of the three Italian operas written by Mozart to a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, all of which the theatre intends to stage within the next two years. The action of these three operas revolves  significantly around the dynamics of seduction, infidelity, betrayal and forgiveness, with its entailed scheming, and all possible ensuing comic and dramatic situations.  No more is it so than in this last opera of the trilogy, a comedy of manners, which puts to test the strength of sentiments, and reflects  on them with  insight.  This ‘dramma giocosa’ is indeed tragi-comic, wholely devoted to the various aspects and implications of the question, and deals with  the fragility of human nature as it grapples with its own weaknesses and emotions.  The deceived are also deceivers.  There are also moments of enlightenment which shed light on more profound considerations, as when Fiordiligi wanting to disguise herself and go to war as a soldier, realizes that changing clothes means losing one’s own identity.
The story-line revolves around the cynical Don Alfonso who wishes to prove to two officers that their fiancées, like all women, given the chance, would be unfaithful.  The two men let themselves be involved in a dangerous wager, to put their fiancées to the test.  Pretending to be called up, they depart, only to come back in disguise to court each others partner. With the manipulations of Don Alfonso and the women’s maid Despina, they eventually  succeed. After the masquerade is exposed, the remorseful women  return to their original partner. A bitter after taste and lingering doubt remain however  at the end, even though Don Alfonso justifies the deceit as a necessary trial on the path to wisdom. The opera’s subtitle, La Scuola degli Amanti, or The School for Lovers, would seem to support Don Alfonso’s claim.
The location in this production is not suggested. The set, by the designer Harald Thor, remains fixed. It is a  huge disc which dips and turns like a spinning top, reflecting the twists and turns of moods and events. The first act, the act of innocence, is  rigorously in white and completed with long billowing, white drapes which are used to play with, to entangle, and  to hide. The slow movement of the disc during the arias, at its best gives a natural sense of ease and fluidity and allows the characters to sit with legs dangling, or lie and still be visible.  Unfortunately the slow turning of the disc for the exits often outlasted by far the applause, creating silent lulls. In the second act, the act of betrayal and jealousy, the stage was flooded in red and the string of coloured lights authentically resembled the festive Naples of the  true setting.  The director, Andreas Kriegenburg,  supported by the costumes and particularly the wigs, of Andrea Schraad, cites  the connection between the tragi-comedy of the plot with that of silent films.  Guglielmo and Ferrando are clones of Charlie Chaplin and their disguise entails, unbelievably, only a moustache and a jacket worn inside out.  Fiordiligi and Dorabella are outfitted in pastel dresses, parodies of paper ornaments.  One of the  exaggerated wigs, is reminiscent of Mary Pickford and the other of a cartoon character who has put her hand in the electrical socket. They are portrayed as rather spoilt and  flighty, more frivolity than innocence. In the second act with the ever growing awareness of the choices to be made, they slowly divest themselves of their accoutrements and lay themselves bare. The main problems in this dynamic is largely in the first act where the sight gags, which have their own sense of timing, have to fit in with the music. In silent films the music was written for the gag.
In this performance, three of the six main roles, Fiordiligi, Ferrando and Don Alfonso, were entrusted to singers from the theatre’s young artists programme.  All three acquitted themselves admirably.  Mert Süngü’s even, full-bodied tenor gave weight and consistency to Ferrando, especially in the more dramatic moments, as exemplified in the second act cavatina, ‘Tradito, schernito.’  His lyrical first act aria ‘Un’aura amorosa’, while more than appreciable for warmth and intensity lacked a sustained line which resulted in a certain heaviness.  Zachary Nelson brought a vocal ease and comfortable stage presence to the part of Guglielmo.  Both men’s diction was excellent, something that cannot be said of their female counterparts.  Emily Dorn as Fiordiligi  and Barbara Senator as Dorabella gave their best performances in the second act where their vocality found a more consonant expression in the  introspective mood of the music.  In the first act an overly evident vibrato blighted the diction and musical line, especially when echoed by the clearer instrumental part in the orchestra.  Evan Hughes was an elegant and aloof Don Alfonso, but a touch of greater vocal characterization would have given a stronger impression of his conniving. Carolina Ullrich, as Despina gave a polished and engaging performance both vocally and stage-wise. She is not a light weight Despina.  Her voice is full, her timbre round and shaded, her diction excellent, her vocal line fluid and her stage craft  convincing.  Hers, the only few giggles of the night.
The talented conductor, Omer Meir Wellber, was an extroverted presence on the podium.  Conducting without a baton, he compensated with lively balletic movements and flamboyant arm waving and  accompanied the recitatives at the Hammerklavier, often with tempi a little pushed  and dynamics a little too present.  He  didn’t always seem in control of the orchestra and at times this near perfect ensemble was out of step with the stage.  In fact this chamber sized orchestra, the real star of the evening, seemed to have its own inner musical and expressive cohesiveness independent of the conductor.  Throughout the evening the orchestra continued to capture the attention with its precise and sensitive playing, its attention to detail, the expressiveness of its accompaniments, refined and transparent. They served Mozart well, underlining the psychological state of the characters and the changes in the dramatic situation as he intended. The instrumental soloists emerged and discreetly re-entered the musical  fabric, in perfect equilibrium within the musical dialogue.  With the main body of the orchestra in Salzburg for the Easter Festival, this chamber ensemble, focused in the cleared pit, elegantly attired in tails,  performing with obvious and buoyant involvement, was definitely the protagonist.  The clarinets and oboes shone, the flutes were enchanting in their solo, the horns impeccable for style, beauty of sound and technical finesse. Photos Matthias Creutziger