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A new production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte was performed at the Royal Opera of Versailles, in a refined and elegant staging by Ivan Alexandre
What if Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte were much more than a trilogy? What if the characters Mozart and Da Ponte brought to life were related by temporal continuity?
This is the spirit in which Ivan Alexandre gave life to the new production of Così fan tutte at the Royal Opera of Versailles. His idea is that the cynic Don Alfonso is nothing more than the evolution of the young and restless Cherubino, who then became the unrepentant Don Giovanni. Without imagining all the characters as alter-egos, but more human types like in the Commedia dell’arte, the line holds true.
Quotations at the harpsichord subtly underline the continuity between operas, without falling into forced identification: one hears Leporello’s aria Notte e giorno faticar… then the Voi che sapete by Cherubino.
The spirit of the Commedia dell’Arte is also present in the scenery, imagined by Antoine Fontaine as a metatheatre. This temporary scene made of trestles and curtains (which we have already seen in the previous episodes of the triptych), is transformed according to the different scenes, sometimes just by changing the layout of the curtains, or by lifting them up as if they were boat sails, or by opening a hatch…
The demise of the fourth wall
The theatre reveals us its secrets: on stage we don’t see Dorabella, Fiordiligi, Ferrando, Guglielmo, Despina and Don Alfonso, but a theatre company which came to perform its show and is ready to dismantle the sets and relocate them elsewhere.
The opera singers are on stage before the beginning of each act and, while Les Musiciens du Louvre tune their period instruments, they warm up their voices, take a look at the audience, wait for the time to pass, take selfies.
The fourth wall no longer exists, the magician shows us his tricks, everything is exposed before our eyes. And it works perfectly. We are soon captivated by the subtlety of this production and by this consistent cast, ensuring vocal and interpretative excellence.
Dressed in Antoine Fontaine’s refined costumes — where the long skirts of women (and men!) fall gracefully to the ground and the fabrics glow under the lights of Tobias Hagström Stahl — the 6 singers fill the whole space, climb up and down the stage, hide or even become spectators themselves.
An expressive and charismatic plateau
Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani offers us an expressive Ferrando who, during the few minutes of Un aura amorosa, submerges us into a suspended and poetic moment, where even Don Alfonso appears moved. The tenor’s lyrical and fragile voice contrasts beautifully with Robert Gleadow’s dark and assertive tone. Highly committed on stage, the bass-baritone moves around comfortably and makes a remarkable Guglielmo, overflowing with virility and audacity.
Their female counterparts are successful as well: Serena Malfi embodies a Dorabella with soft legato and light chest notes. Her gestures and glances are entirely consistent with the character, who, as we know, will be the first to yield to the advances of the two men.
Ana Maria Labin (Fiordiligi) is at ease on stage and manages perfectly her voice, moving smoothly from the low to the high register, especially in her passionate and spirited A chi mai mancò di fede.
The game is on
Of Maria Savastano’s captivating Despina we appreciate the limpid high notes and her witty and sarcastic temperament, which culminates in her life lesson for the girls (Una donna a 15 anni).
Jean-Sébastien Bou’s Don Alfonso is persuasive and manipulative, he leads the way and directs the four protagonists as he sees fit. His Io crepo se non rido is overwhelming and makes the audience burst into laughter.
The playful and mocking aspect of Mozartian writing is also enhanced by the orchestra, which plays at a sustained rhythm. What a pleasure to listen to the beautiful sound of period instruments, especially those of the winds, which blend in perfectly with the voices and enhance them, thanks also to Marc Minkowski’s subtle and elegant guidance.
Ivan Alexandre chooses to end the opera with a fight, which would certainly have amused Mozart as well as the members of the Court of Versailles and today’s listeners, who leave the splendid Royal Opera with a smile on their faces.