Within less than ten days in November last year I have had the fortune to attend two opera productions directed by Peter Konwitschny. Last week I was in Berlin where I saw Mozart’s Così fan tutte at the Komische Oper, and later I re-experienced Richard Strauss’s Elektra at the Copenhagen Opera.
Così fan tutte was focusing on two extremes in love:
1. How teenagers become adults, and innocent adoration changes into erupting passion. The scenography even had stylised volcanos on stage (continually covered by the sensible but vainly repressing Fiordiligi).
2. How failed love can lead to cynicism and bitterness.
Both extremes were quite discomforting for the characters, mainly the teenagers (i.e. the young couples), but of course also promising and exciting. The change from child to adult was shown with rag dolls. Guglielmo and Ferrando carried around doll portraits of Dorabella and Fiordiligi and vice versa. The guys even preferred to address the dolls in the scene where they are leaving the girls to go to war. The girls were a bit annoyed by this, thus signalling a further advanced maturity recognisable in most teenage girls.
Since we were dealing with teenagers the main plot stayed quite undramatic – I mean how wrong can it go when you are only 15? Worst case scenario? That you grow up! And this was of course what happened (volcanos and all).
Fiordiligi and Dorabella wrapping up their dolls…while moving on to new adventures.
I have seen other productions in which the piece was interpreted as a tragedy (see for instance Patrice Chéreau’s direction from Aix-en-Provence). In Berlin this was not the case at all. All performers were good actors and I laughed hard and spontaneous more than once which is very nice in a comic opera!
Don Alfonso with silly girls.
If looking for tragedy you should turn to Don Alfonso, and even he was more tragi-comic than really tragic. It was clear that his past offered some sad stories since he kept playing Russian roulette and putting up sour faces and sporting stubble and dark circles under his eyes. So it was his bitterness and possible depression that spurred the drama. I like a depressed Alfonso, but this time it turned into comedy when Alfonso-the-Drama-Queen pointed a sausage to his forehead and fired… This was ok, only because I am a great fan of sausages and found their presence in a production of Così fan tutte hilarious.
Musically the performances were good with at least one truly unforgettable voice among them: Maria Bengtsson’s soprano. She was amazing as Fiordiligi! It seemed to me she sang piano or pianissimo most of the time and with such beautiful delicacy and nuance.Stella Doufexis as Dorabella did a very good job too and Gertrud Ottenthal’s Despina was firm and beautiful. Klaus Kutter as Guglielmo was nice, but quickly forgotten and Peter Lodahl (Ferrando) whom I know of (since he is Danish) was all right, but nothing more. He seemed unable to turn down his volume and some of his arias seemed speedy and gave me the suspicious feeling that he needed them to be fast in order to survive. I don’t know if this is true…Don Alfonso was sung by Christian Tschelebiew and he did very well – a good one to direct eyes and ears to. I had hoped to see Dietrich Henschel in the part but this was not a bad switch. I really liked him – maybe also because he was the only real man on stage as my companion remarked…When you end an opera by eating sausages and discussing whether the barytone and the soprano should marry – or maybe the soprano and the tenor or maybe, maybe, yes, it would be easiest if the tenor and the barytone got each other…then it all seems pretty silly (at least when it is done by a tenor speaking German with a strikingly thick Danish accent). Silly is completely ok when it comes to Mozart. I don’t want to seem too plain but I really had Tom Hulce’s hysterical laughter from the film Amadeus in my ears when I left Komische Oper. In the long run I think I prefer a more serious/tragic interpretation but as a little piece of rococo chocolate this was perfect. And the absurdly surreal moose couple in the beginning was wonderful!
Far from rococo, chocolate, moose and sausages with mustard was this evening’s performance of Elektra. I think this production (which I have seen before) is one of the best I have ever seen of any opera. It is extremely violent and extremely thought-provoking in terms of today’s society.
I was shaken by the brilliantly performed score, the world class singers and the grandiose direction. Together they make a sublime conglomerate of cruel beauty and pure terror.
Elektra with the axe she kept dragging around. The axe her father had been slaughtered with.
The conversation between mother and daughter (portrayed by Susanne Resmark and Eva Johansson) was so terribly calm and at the same time so terribly grim. When Klytämnestra starts dancing her victory dance after having confessed to her awfully bad dreams it perfects the already central and most frightening scene.
You can have a stainlessly white leather three-piece suite and still have a lot of blood on your hands!
Peter Konwitschny is a magnificent artist.