The quirky opera season at the Argentino offers only four titles and just two are repertoire: Puccini´s "La Boheme" and Mozart´s "Così fan tutte", currently on stage. The other two are Andriessen´s "De materie", not an opera (reviewed on the Herald), and Benjamin and Crimp´s "Written on skin", to be premièred in October. This reflects the tastes of Martín Bauer, the new Director (who programmes Colón Contemporáneo), but has little to do with the Argentino´s tradition.
"Così fan tutte" was presented with two valuable casts; though I had to choose the second due to collisions with important events in Buenos Aires, I feel that both are on a very professional level. But before I go on to analyze this latest revival, it is important to know that, unlike the other Da Ponte librettos made into operas, "Le Nozze di Figaro" and "Don Giovanni", "Così fan tutte" was strongly controversial for more than a century and was gradually appreciated only in the Twentieth Century, thanks to Mahler, Richard Strauss (both as conductors) and Fritz Busch, who with his Glyndebourne Festival revival produced by Carl Ebert finally launched the success that had been elusive for so long. And it was this combination (Busch-Ebert) that finally brought it to the Colón in 1934.
The story of why this opera came into being is paradoxical, for it was the Emperor Josef II who indicated the subject to Da Ponte, hoping that the cynical comedy would have some influence on what he considered to be the promiscuous Viennese girls. It wasn´t Mozart´s choice, but the music he composed is wonderful and its sharp characterisation completely agrees with the details of the plot. Unfortunately, the opera was premièred in January 1790 just a week before the Emperor´s death; the ensuing Court Mourning cut off all performances.
This is still a Rococo entertainment, but six months before the French Revolution had begun when the Bastille was taken: as Hans Redlich wrote, "audiences began to crave for lofty sentiments, political ideals and romantic moods". The key character is Don Alfonso, an old skeptical philosopher who doesn´t believe in fidelity and challenges two officers (Ferrando and Guglielmo) that in just 24 hours their paramours Fiordiligi and Dorabella will be unfaithful: the officers must maskerade as Albanian gentlemen who, seconded by Don Alfonso and the libertine maid Despina, will try to seduce the ladies (who are Ferrarese but live in Naples). Sure enough, it eventually happens, the masks fall down, the ladies repent and all ends happily.
The main problem of the staging is the suspension of disbelief: the officers must be made up in such a way that they won´t be recognisable; and the most buffo problem is that Despina disguises herself as a Doctor and a Notary, and there´s no way to make it believable. So this opera must be taken by the audience as an unrealistic farce and a strong attack on fidelity. As our society has plenty of free love practitioners, "Così fan tutte" is even mild nowadays.
It tollerates much better than the two other Mozart-Da Ponte works the transposition to another time, though it can be done very well according to the original libretto: I have seen about 17 different stagings and most of them respected the late 18th century indications. For even in cynical terms, some aspects can´t be changed. But at least, a coffee bar, a room and a garden are easily modernised.
Producer Rubén Schuchmacher put the action in the 1950s. The best thing was the stage design of Jorge Ferrari; functional and pleasant, in seconds it changed from room to garden. He also did the costumes: the girls´ were alright, but the presumed Albanian gentlemen looked like punks. The disguised men were very recognisable, their faces hardly changed. Schuchmacher did a grievous mistake: he added ridiculous lateral hip movements in many scenes, not only gross but completely crashing with Mozart´s refinement. But the singers were agilely moved. Reasonable lighting by Gonzalo Córdova.
The musical side was very good. Rubén Dubrovsky is an Argentine that is having a brilliant career in Vienna, particularly in the Baroque repertoire, though he is equally at home in Classicism. It was a positive decision to bring him over as conductor of this "Così...". He showed positive command, good tempi and taste; the Orchestra played well for him, except some horn mistakes in Fiordiligi´s Rondo "Per pietà". However, I question the total inclusion of the recitatives; I have always heard them with some cuts, even in recordings, for some of the stuff isn´t necessary for the narration and it lengthens the opera with uninteresting music. On the other hand, he included for the first time in my experience the charming "duettino" of the officers "Al fato dan legge".
The two sisters were admirable: Daniela Tabernig (Fiordiligi) and Florencia Machado (Dorabella) sang their duets in perfect blend and their arias with fine vocality and style. Cecilia Pastawski was a pert and accurate Despina. The men were also satisfactory. Santiago Bürgi sang Ferrando with a firm line, including the rarely done "Tradito, schernito". Alejandro Spies, who has generally sung premières of old and new operas, this time was given the chance to do Mozart, and he did so with accomplishment. And Luciano Miotto again proved to be a master of buffo style. All acted well.