Like a Rock: Così fan tutte from the Teatro alla Scala

Mozart – Così fan tutte

Fiordiligi – Eleonora Buratto
Dorabella – Emily d’Angelo
Guglielmo – Alessio Arduini
Ferrando – Bogdan Volkov
Despina – Federica Guida
Don Alfonso – Pietro Spagnoli

Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala / Giovanni Antonini
Stage director – Michael Hampe. 
Video director – Alessandro Tiberi

Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Italy.  Saturday, January 23rd, 2021.  Streamed via Rai Play.

With the current sanitary situation showing no sign of abating before the spring, the Scala took the decision to produce Michael Hampe’s 1983 staging of Così fan tutte in its beautiful home without a live audience but instead, streamed using the infrastructure of the Italian broadcaster Rai and available to watch on demand until January 25th.  For it, the Scala assembled an extremely tempting cast under the direction of specialist Giovanni Antonini.

Photo: © Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano

Surprisingly for its vintage, Hampe’s staging, here revived by Lorenza Cantini, looks remarkably handsome.  The classic costumes (Mauro Pagano) look in excellent condition as do the sets (also by Pagano).  The pastel beauty of the interior, gives way to a distant vista of Naples with the waters of the Gulf of Naples in the foreground.  There was an impressive ship that was rolled on to take the gentlemen off to war and returned as the Albanians tried to seduce the sisters in Act 2.  Where the staging does show its age is in its direction of the singers.  There was far too much standing and delivering, too much resorting to stock operatic gestures, a singer singing their aria into the middle distance or an outstretched hand to illustrate emotion.  The direction of the Act 1 finale consisted of the cast being moved around in formation without even engaging with, or looking at, each other.  Così is a work that should take the viewer on a journey from joy, to sadness, to pain and then hopefully to a belief in the power of forgiveness.  Of course, there are readings that can be darker and cynical.  Yet, here the attractive sets, decadent costumes and stock gestures led to a reading that stifled the pain, that numbed the emotions, despite the hard work of the cast.  That isn’t to say that there weren’t moments of reflection, Eleonora Buratto’s ‘per pietà’ tugged at the heartstrings thanks to her implicit understanding of the music and text despite, instead of because of, the staging.

Photo: © Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano

Fortunately, the musical rewards were considerable and indeed, thanks to the musical chemistry between the cast, they were able to make much more of the staging than might otherwise have been the case.  Buratto’s Fiordiligi was something very special indeed.  She has the vocal range to do justice to the frequent leaps between the registers, here all absolutely integrated, from a particularly juicy chest register that she deployed with fabulous abandon to a bright and shining top.  I’m not quite convinced, however, that she is the owner of a genuine trill.  That said, her native diction and the profound understanding of the idiom gave an enormous amount of pleasure, particularly in ‘per pietà’ as she ornamented the line with sensitivity, making each variation really mean something and finding the inner truth beyond the notes.  Similarly, she dispatched ‘come scoglio’ with authoritative ease, revelling in those leaps across the range.  Alessio Arduini gave us an exceptionally handsomely sung Guglielmo.  His baritone is in wonderful shape, the tone masculine and warm, with an admirably smooth legato which he put to the forefront in ‘il core vi dono’.  He was also able to turn the corners in ‘donne mie’ which he did without succumbing to the urge to hector.  Following his superb Don Giovanni in Palermo last fall, Arduini, with this Guglielmo, confirms his place as one of the leading Mozart baritones of today.

Photo: © Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano

Pietro Spagnoli brought his by now familiar Don Alfonso.  As always, he savoured the text always putting it front and centre in his baritone with compact and concentrated tone.  Federica Guida gave us a sparkling Despina in a sunny, youthful soprano.  She gamely varied the tone in her manifestations as the doctor and notary and displayed excellent comic timing in her opening scene.  She’s very young, having made her operatic debut in 2019, and is clearly a singer to watch.  Emily d’Angelo sang Dorabella in a copper-toned mezzo with a tart, grapefruit edge.  She’s certainly the owner of a distinctive instrument with good agility and also made much of the text.  It struck me that, as of yet, she has a relatively limited palette of tone colours to exploit, but she did shade the tone when required and is a confident stage presence.  Bogdan Volkov repeated his Ferrando, having sung the role in Salzburg last summer.  He dispatched his ‘aura amorosa’ with extrovert feeling although the phrasing felt rather lumpy.  Similarly, while his diction was clear, I longed for him to make more of those particularly Italian double consonants.  His singing seemed more muscular and virile than elegant and I did wish that he had dared to pull back on the tone more and focus on spinning those long Mozartian lines.

Photo: © Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano

Antonini led a reading that felt, by and large, superbly paced.  His tempi were athletic, with the Scala orchestra rising to the challenge.  The recitatives, so often a stumbling block, fizzled along nicely, helped by the clarity of the diction of the cast and James Vaughan’s scintillating fortepiano accompaniments, providing a musical commentary on the action.  Strings played with minimal vibrato and the horns were extremely well behaved in ‘per pietà’.  There were a few ragged entries here and there but nothing to distract from the pleasure of the whole.  Bruno Casoni’s chorus, singing from the auditorium, sounded substantial in size and sang with generous tone.

Photo: © Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano

Musically, this was an exceptionally satisfying performance with Buratto and Arudini in particular offering us singing that was stylish and gratifying to listen to.  Antonini’s conducting was also pretty much ideal.  The staging looked very good for its age but stifled the emotion despite the very best efforts of the cast, although the pain and regret that Buratto managed to bring out, despite the setting, was testament to her strengths as a singer and actor.  Still, the musical rewards are considerable and given that the video will only be available for a short while, highly recommended viewing.

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