A Disastrous Così in Amsterdam

Così fan tutte at the Dutch National Opera. Amsterdam, October 2019.

Fiordiligi: Anett Fritsch
Dorabella: Angela Brower
Despina: Sophia Burgos
Guglielmo: Davide Luciano
Ferrando: Sebastian Kohlhepp
Don Alfonso: Thomas Oliemans

Conductor: Ivor Bolton
Direction: Jossi Wieler, Sergio Morabito
Orchestra: Dutch Chamber Orchestra
Choir: Choir of the Dutch National Opera



The Disaster Year

The year 2003. The year in which DNO presented us with a debacle of unprecedented proportions: the Da Ponte Trilogy, skinned, ripped open and castrated by the Black & Decker duo in Opera land, Mr Wieler & Mr Morabito.

What do we like to do with abominable failures? Repeat them of course. As if the wreck of the Titanic had been towed to an obscure shipyard: “We just patch it up here and there and watch it sail into the sunset again, sir.” Of the three Da Ponte operas Le nozze di Figaro, Così fan tutte & Don Giovanni, the first was already performed in 2010, and Così in 2009. And now another Così. We don’t think it’s impossible that Konwitschny’s Salome will rise from the ashes again; then we have to start thinking seriously about DNO being placed under guardianship.

Temptation Island

It was a familiar Dutch National Opera evening: ears wide open, eyes stiffly closed. The latter, however, seldom succeeds. We will be brief about the direction: Così, the least disastrous of the offerings from the Da Ponte cycle of 2003, has now been moved to Temptation Island and Albanian soldiers have become boy scouts. Why, nobody knows. The result is akin to an open wound that has been treated with a scouring pad for a long time in the torture chamber of the directors. Staging and texts once again form an utterly ridiculous combination, and that is not Da Ponte’s fault. Our colleagues at Place de l’Opera published an entertaining piece about the experiences of an opera layman, who went to the opera for the first time. A short and revealing quote about his experience wit this Così:

“I constantly have to switch between old language, a set that is presumably intended to be contemporary and ditto costumes, antique thoughts, Greek mythological sexual fantasies, modern sunglasses and classical chords. All this should be understood as an attempt to glue together a centuries-old musical art form and a very young audience.”

How excellent the layman has put this into words.

And to think that Così fan tutte is already lóóóng, from 19:00 to 23:00. There really is no end to it. Evil thoughts get the upper hand: when will this finally end? Apparently, many people had thought of this in time, because the interest in the premiere was moderate; on the afternoon of the premiere, more than 150 seats were still available, after a contingent of tickets via Last Minute Shop had already been sold out for half price. That’s one way of boosting the occupancy rate.

The way in which the rather faint story is upgraded to the level of Today’s People is entertaining. According to the Dutch National Opera, this is a “love experiment”.  Read this blatant nonsense: “Four young lovers have yet to discover how life works and where the boundaries lie between fantasy and reality, between youth and adulthood”.

Let us tell you that in this Mozart opera there is no “experiment”, nor is there any character on a voyage of discovery into “the boundaries between fantasy and reality, between youth and adulthood”. The opera has a name, which remarkably says a lot about its content. “Così fan tutte” is sometimes translated as “all do that”, but the literal translation is “all women do that”. “That’s just the way the females are”, is a nice, politically incorrect translation. The humbug has to mask the fact that the libretto is, to a large extent, politically incorrect in a pleasing way. Men among each other! Just kidding! “Bet that your girls…. etc. etc.”

The Così story must be familiar to almost everyone. Don Alfonso, an already elderly rascal, convinces two young aristocratic soldiers to test the loyalty of their loved ones. Don Afonso is played by Dutch baritone Thomas Oliemans, and although he is a bit too young for this role (hence equipped with pipe, because pipe=old) he sings his role excellently, until at the end of the evening fatigue strikes, and not only him. Don Alfonso may not have many arias of his own, but in “Vorrei dir, e cor non ho”, Oliemans flows in beautifully with the ladies. The Italian Davide Luciano sings with a fine lyrical baritone the role of the one young man, Guglielmo; his companion, Ferrando, is played by Sebastian Kohlhepp, a warmly timbred, slender-toned Mozart tenor; his aria “Tradito, schernito” was wonderful.

The two boys tell their loved ones Dorabella and Fiordiligi that they have been summoned to battle. Anett Fritsch sings a very intense Fiordiligi and forms a musically perfect duo with rich tones scattering Angela Brower (Dorabella). Unfortunately, Fritsch’s low tones were not always that beautiful.

Now it’s time to laugh. Guglielmo and Ferrando disguise themselves as Albanians to seduce each other’s (!) fiancée. Don Alfonso pays the maid Despina to give him a helping hand in convincing Dorabella and Fiordiligi. Sophia Burgos (Despina) sang her two arias, “In uomini, in soldati” and the infectious “Una donna a quindici anni”, clearly, delicately and with an excellent technique.

Back to “the love experiment”: within 48 hours, the ladies gave up their fiancés and signed for the marriage with the Albanians. In other words, women have a lack of morality, staying faithful is not in their nature. The unfaithfulness of the men is not an unfaithfulness but a means to test their fiancées. That’s the “love experiment”.

The happy ending of the opera leaves the men, although they have been given a nasty treat as well, completely worthy; but the women are portrayed as careless and naive school girls, “because that’s the way females are”. Add to that Despina, the corrupt maid who wants to make a profit, and Don Alfonso, who ends up looking down on the clumsy ones like a wise man, and the conclusion is clear: in Così fan tutte the ladies, in contrast to the gentlemen, come off pretty badly. In a Dutch newspaper, the NRC, the British musicologist Charles Ford was quoted, who described Così as “vengeful misogyny, wrapped in a thin layer of gold leaf”. The People of Now will have to face it….

Some critics seem to have quite a few objections to conductor Ivor Bolton, who conducted the as always sublime Dutch Chamber Orchestra. His choice of tempi, in particular, is often criticised; also, poetic passages wouldn’t come off very well in Bolton’s conducting. In our opinion, however, Ivor Bolton is an opera conductor pur sang, who maintains excellent contact with the singers. Unfortunately, Bolton was hindered by a lute playing hippie on stage, who interfered with the recitatives, an invention of our friends Rolf & Viktor. Anyway, as far as Bolton is concerned: his Mozart lives.

We had hoped to get rid of the duo Wieler & Morabito in Amsterdam for good. That would have been good for the opera-loving public, for the Dutch National Opera and especially for Mozart.

Olivier Keegel
(published 4 October 2019)

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Olivier Keegel


Chief Editor since 2019. Does not need much more than Verdi, Bellini and Donizetti. Wishes to resuscitate Tito Schipa and Fritz Wunderlich. Certified unmasker of directors' humbug.

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1 year ago

hmm lots about the production, almost nothing about the soloists !!!! Contrary to the reviewer I thought the Wieler/Morabito nozze was the best of the trilogy, indeed I found it very good and entertaining. The Don was certainly a disaster and Cosi can be such a bore if not sung by world class soloists. But while I can appreciate Keegel’s terminator-like discussion of productions, an opera is still sung and soloists deserve to get a word too….