Mozart Così fan tutte opera to a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. Directed 2013 by Michael Haneke at the Teatro Real de Madrid. Stars Anett Fritsch (Fiordiligi), Paola Gardina (Dorabella), Kerstin Avemo (Despina), Juan Francisco Gatell (Ferrando), Andreas Wolf (Guglielmo), and William Shimell (Don Alfonso). Sylvain Cambreling conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Real de Madrid (Chorus Master Andrés Maspero). Pianoforte by Eugène Michelangeli. Sets designed by Christoph Kanter; costumes by Moidele Bickel; lighting by Urs Schönebaum; video edited by Monika Willi; directed for TV by Hannes Rossacher. Released 2013, disc has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: C-
Michael Haneke, who declares himself to be a realist, directed the famous art-house movie Amour, a harrowing but touching tale of the horrors of growing old. Here are a few words about Haneke's realistic approach to Così fan tutte from Fred Cohn, writing in the May 2014 Opera News at page 66: "I did not enjoy this Così. There's no pleasure to be found in Haneke's Naples, no potential for sensuous delight. It is a place where sex can bring only pain. But the production vividly explores the work's disturbing, and often ignored, element of cruelty." Richard Lawrence was a bit more favorable in his April 2014 review in Gramophone at pages 115-116. Lawrence states,"Within the limits of Haneke's very particular view of the opera, the acting is perfect, and it's beautifully caught by Hannes Rossacher, the TV director."
I'll go even further than the print critics. Although Haneke appears (in the bonus extra to this production) to be a mild-mannered and affable gent, his approach here is that of a complete cynic. He turns the relationships of the two sisters and their men into a wife-swapping party even before the couples can get married. Don Alfonzo and Despina are in a sado-masochistic marriage (that they both relish and detest) but which will last as long as they can work together to contrive situations with voyeuristic opportunities. Like a vampire couple, they drain all humor out of the Così libretto until it lies bone-white on the floor. There is only one mild laugh heard from the audience during the entire show. Now to screenshots. Pay attention---at the end of the screenshots there is a pop quiz from Haneke himself (that you can find on the back cover of the keepcase.)
Here Così opens with Don Alphoso (William Shimell) and Despina (Kerstin Avemo) seen in the center greeting guests at a house-warming party at their newly-modernized old mansion. (Haneke states in the keepcase booklet that the Don and Despina are married and why they are having the party.) We are in modern times, but the hosts and some of the guests are dressed in 18th century costumes:
All the guests are seniors except for two young engaged couples (who are in for a special treat). Here we meet Guglielmo (Andreas Wolf) and Fiordiligi (Anett Fritsch), busy having a lovers' spat:
Next we meet Ferrando (Francisco Gatell) and Dorabella (Paola Gardina), who is also not happy. In the libretto, Fiordiligi is the strong, intellectual sister and Dorabella is the girl who can't say no. But Haneke flips this by presenting Fiordiligi as a sexpot and dressing Dorabella like a certified public accountant:
The girls are bored but they sense that they have been invited to spice things up. Below is the innocent scene in the libretto where the sisters sit together in private (no man around) and chat about the portraits they have of their handsome lovers. But here the girls provide quite a PDA (public display of affection) while their hosts, standing right behind them, gaze down on the action:
Don Alfonso bets that he can prove the girls to be unfaithful, and the men are game to cooperate: