Compelling new ROH Cosi

24 Sep

The interpretations that directors get out of Cosi fan tutte seem limitless.  Some of them don’t work but it’s rare to come out of a Cosi thinking that you’ve learned nothing new about the work.  And this was confirmed by the marvellously intelligent and inventive new production at the ROH, which I saw at its first night on 22 September.

The majority of Kasper Holten’s imported directors have misfired but we have a notable exception in Jan Philipp Gloger.  His idea is that the performance begins after a production of Cosi and we see the four lovers in the audience, the boys arguing about the opera until invited up on to the stage by Alfonso.  Gradually, the couples are drawn backstage and he beautifully catches the mix of artificial commedia dell’arte comedy with the real emotions.  Alfonso and Despina are part of the troupe and use their theatrical resources to set up the different set pieces.  At times we see the audience as well – watching during Alfonso’s summing up of the moral and, themselves, illustrating the idea.  And Gloger has the idea that Fiordiligi and Dorabella realise what’s going on at the beginning of Act II and play along for the fun of it.

It’s a very busy production with multiple sets and props moving about, heavily choreographed and very precise.  But none of this detracts from the emotional side.  Ferrando sings Un aura amorosa looking at the sleeping girls – a beautiful, ambiguous moment.  During Per pieta, Guglielmo comes on to retrieve some of the clothing he’s lost during the previous duet while both the men’s arias catch the seriousness of the emotions.  It’s a lovely, fascinating, happy production that catches the artificiality of the opera while keeping its emotions close to you.  It reminds me of the sort of invention that we got with Christoph Loy’s Ariadne here.  Some have described it as charmless – since I’ve never found Cosi a particularly charming opera, that didn’t worry me.

We had a lovely young cast, four of them making their debuts here.  Corinne Winter was Fiordiligi – I wasn’t completely convinced that she’s a natural Mozart soprano – not all of the singing sounded completely true – but she delivered an outstanding Per pieta – one of the most moving and intense that I’ve heard and her acting was clear, direct, youthful.  Angela Brower was a lighter, flightier Dorabella, in excellent voice.  Sabina Puertolas was a lively, intelligent, stroppy Despina.

Daniel Behle sang one of the best Ferrandos that I’ve heard – some gorgeous, intense pianissimi, an outstanding stylist and a nice actor.  Alessio Arduino caught the livelier, stroppier Guglielmo and Johann Martin Kraenzle was a heavier than usual Alfonso but alert, enjoying stage managing the show and, as is the fashion at the moment, rejected by Despina and everyone else by the end.

Semyon Bychkov was conducting his first ever Cosi.  It was a loving, intense, very leisurely reading.  I’m not sure that I’ve heard slower Mozart since Haitink’s four hour Don Giovanni.  Bychkov didn’t quite reach that but an opera that some conductors can get through in three hours took three hours 40 and that was with the usual cuts.  I didn’t mind.  None of the tempi felt wrong (that for Per pieta felt intensely, beautifully right) and I loved the way in which he handled the textures, the interplay of the instruments and the phrasing.  I heard new things, new ideas in the pit and the orchestra played wonderfully for him.  This was elegant, thoughtful, happy Mozart.

This run doesn’t appear to be selling that well: an unknown director and a cast without big names.  That’s a shame: it’s an engaging, highly professional, beautifully sung and prepared piece of work and is breath of fresh air at the ROH.  I hope that Mr Gogler is invited back and I hope this Cosi returns regularly.  Go and see it.

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