Everything comes together perfectly in Jonas Corell Petersen’s production of Così fan tutte at the Norwegian Opera.
Sometimes the plot of a classic opera is so silly that it’s almost hard to believe. Take Così fan tutte, for example, one of the last operas Mozart ever wrote and the third he made in collaboration with Lorenzo da Ponte: Two men wish to find out if their girlfriends are truly faithful. To put them to the test, the men leave for war, but return in disguise and try to seduce each other’s women. That’s pretty much it. Let me just ad that we’re not talking about innocent flirtation, but three and a half hour of intense courtship that even the most fiercely monogamous women would have trouble resisting.
Danish director Jonas Corell Petersen effectively uses all this nonsense to his advantage as he creates his first ever opera in Oslo. “I give you my heart,” Guglielmo sings to Dorabella, and does just that in the form of a large, heart-shaped sofa cushion. The performance is packed with moments like this, which gives it an energy and humour that makes it such a joy to watch. The gentlemen’s “cover up” are limited to a pair of sunglasses and a cheap wig, while the ladies stroll around the house dressed in something resembling half bathrobe, half party dress. Their home is filled with furniture from just about every period imaginable, from Baroque sofas and seventies Formica tables to a pair of garden plastic chairs . It’s decadent, sensual and wonderfully trashy. The playful attention to detail is reason good enough to see the performance, but there’s more. Much more.
The fact that the plot largely revolves around two ladies provide us with duets for female voices so beautiful that it’s almost hard to believe. Two young stars, Norwegian Ingeborg Gillebo and Moldovan Natalia Tanasii, sing so intently and with such command that it make you feel like crying, as the heroines themselves threaten to do about every five minutes. Opera is drama at the highest level, full of paralysing pain and bursting hearts, but as you hear the soft, intense voices of these women you think that, yes, this is exactly what a bursting heart sounds like.
I also have to mention Eir Inderhaug as the sly housekeeper Despina, who finds her energy in the torments of others. Inderhaug has, in addition to a fabulous voice, a huge talent for comedy which se really puts to use in this performance (if you’re seated in the front row, hold on to your glasses). In addition, we get to spend an evening with The Opera Orchestra new artistic director Karl-Heinz Steffens, a man who even during the dress rehearsal exuded so much energy and musical joy that just looking at him puts you in a good mood.
Then, in the second act, it becomes obvious that it’s not all just nonsense and beautiful music. At the top of the stage images flicker across the screen – scenes from old Hollywood movies, a Donkey Kong video game and pictures of various reptiles. The backdrop is a desert, and the ladies’ garden is so dry that only cactus flowers grow there. What are the true conditions of monogamous love today? Is it perhaps just a silly idea? We are inclined to think so, as Fiordiligi resists her suitors courtship one last time in one of opera’s most beautiful arias.
I don’t think it’s easy to create a modern and relevant version of this opera, which was almost entirely forgotten for over a century. This time everything comes together perfectly. The music Mozart wrote over two hundred years ago is nevertheless a gift for any opera director and, not least, for his audience.
Così fan tutte is performed at The Norwegian National Opera until January 13th.