The rest of the performance bore the signature of some of the less happy legacies of the Levine era: a boring production and singing that was fine but not quite star quality. The production is particularly egregious. Leslie Koenig’s 1996 staging is cartoonish, unsubtle, and offers much unfunny comic business, making a very poor contrast to the sublimity of the music. It flattens this ambiguous, intense libretto to its lowest common rom-com denominator. (Such a seemingly low opinion of the libretto has a venerable history in Così reception, but this sort of staging seems to proceed from an a priori assumption of triviality, and never constructs a coherent relationship with the overqualified score.)
It’s also just bad theater. The look is traditional, and the blocking in the first act frequently mirrors both the sisters and the men--problematic, I think, for a production already short on dramatic differentiation. Its brand of comedy involves having the Albanians spend an awful lot of time twirling their robes around. One great thing about Da Ponte’s libretti is how they always begin in media res. But while the men are obviously in the midst of a heated conversation when the curtain rises, here they lounge still and wordless for the whole introduction.
(I’m sorry to sound like a broken record here, but you have 70-some days left to watch the Michael Haneke production of Così on the Arte website, and if you haven’t yet, go do it now because you owe it to yourself. It’s a brutal and chilly take on an opera that I’ve (as you may have surmised) never found very funny.)
The cast offered some lovely moments, but none overshadowed the conducting, quite. Fiordiligi is a fiendishly difficult role and Susanna Philips handled many of the technical challenges with aplomb and a silvery soprano. But she isn’t a natural comedian or a big personality, and lacks the bravura to make “Come scoglio” really take off. Where she excelled was “Per pietà” and onwards, where she traced Fiordiligi’s descent with simplicity and honesty. Maybe she’s just more of a Mimì type. As her sister, Isabel Leonard was not impressive, sounding rather vinegary and showing little in the way of stage presence.
The other men were much better. Matthew Polenzani remains a superb Mozart tenor with sweet tone and great musicality, and did the most glamorous singing of the evening. He can actually make “Ah! lo veggio” sound like the walk in the park that, in the libretto, it literally is. Rodion Pogorossov was a fine Gugliemo and almost funny, though this role always seems to have drawn the short straw.
Despite great unevenness, the conducting alone was enough to make this a gratifying performance, and I recommend you go if you can.
Mozart, Così fan tutte, Metropolitan Opera, 10/5/2013.Photos copyright Marty Sohl/Met.