“Così fan tutte” in Zürich, aka The death of opera.

Our Opera Gazet critic Mordechai Aranowicz visited a remarkable Così fan tutte in Zurich. Director Kirill Serebrennikov had just been under house arrest for 20 months, officially for embezzlement, but was released. Very recently, on 1 November, the Moscow Court reopened the case.

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Così fan tutte, dramma giocoso in two acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte.

Fiordiligi: Ruzan Mantashyan
Dorabella: Anna Goryachova
Guglielmo: Konstantin Shushakov
Ferrando: Alexey Neklyudov
Despina: Rebeca Olvera
Don Alfonso; Michael Nagy > Todd Boyce
Sempronio: Francesco Guglielmino
Tizio: Mentor Bajrami

Conductor: Ottavio Dantone
Philharmonia Zürich
Chor der Oper Zürich

Staging: Kirill Serebrennikov
Umsetzung Inszenierung: Evgeny Kulagin



Last year the Zurich Opera House received much media attention: Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov was directing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Così fan tutte. As the director had been under arrest in Russia, most likely for political reasons, he was not able to arrive in Switzerland for the rehearsals of this production. Instead, his assistant Evgeny Kulagin has been preparing the production according to the wishes of the director. Having seen the result now at the revival one year later, one can only say: What the heck qualifies this director to direct opera? At the divided concrete stage one can see during that 3.5 h hours long evening all clichés that Regie opera has “offered” the audiences for decades: Doubles, overacting, naked bodies, videos, cell phones, modern suites, changes of the music.

Everything is so foreseeable, that while following that boring opera evening one always imagines what is coming next, and in most cases this really happens. The game “Guess what is happening next!” is the only and most interesting part of that opera evening – otherwise one just wants to sleep. One can only yawn about the pseudo-up-to-date feminism lessons the director tries to give his audience. Projections with slogans like “my pussy my rules” or soldiers committing war crimes makes one wonder whether the director  is really that old-fashioned or whether he really believes that teaching his audience in such a flat and vulgar way would change society? On the other side, by changing the surtitles – (Italian is one of the four languages of Switzerland and the majority in the audience might understand it pretty well) Lorenzo da Ponte`s libretto’s wonderful punchlines, that were of course hints to events of his time, are lost.

But in order to understand them, one should know for example who Dr. Mesmer in Vienna has been during the 18th century. No, dear reader, he was not an IS-terrorist, as Mr Serebrennikov wants to make us believe. Sad highlight of the evening: The first part of the Don Giovanni Sinfonia replacing some of the music at the return of Ferrando and Guglielmo at the opera`s end.

Slapstick comedy

With such a dull slapstick comedy, of course, no one is interested in the music anymore. Well, if one tried to concentrate on the music, one could hear a poor musical production. Ruzan Mantushyan soprano in the role of Fiordiligi had shrill high notes and an unclean intonation. It is not fair though to judge her singing of such a difficult Rondo like “Per pietà, ben mio” if another singer is parallel moaning on the upper level of stage, while performing a sex scene. Anna Goryachova`s Mezzo as her sister Dorabella sounds full and firm, but being obliged to show up in dessous or almost naked on stage for large parts of the evening, she was not able to focus her energy on forming a musical character – a fact that also applied for the thin-voiced Rebeca Olvera as Despina whose “Una donna a quindici anni” aria lost all its wit and effect when shrill videos totally distracted the attention from the music. The soldiers Ferrando and Guglielmo should be casted with a tenor and baritone according to Mozart`s score. Here with Alexey Neklyodov and Konstantin Shushakov we had two singers whose  timbres sounded quite similar, but at least both of them sounded free, with good high notes and proper intonation.

Strange tempi

Two hours before curtain rise, the Don Alfonso, Michael Nagy, cancelled the performance due to a sudden weakness. He was replaced by the young Todd Boyce, who arrived from Bern in Zurich, just at the beginning of the performance, singing his parts from the side of the stage, while stage manager Ulrich Senn performed the cynical philosopher on stage. As much as one can appreciate the jumping in of Mr. Boyce: maybe as a result of his nervousness one hardly was able to hear him in the orchestra stalls.

Ottavio Dantone chose strange tempi with the elevated orchestra  for this Cosi: An Adagio or Andante sounded more vivid than an Allegro and the other way around. For example, there was no room for Mozart`s fine atmosphere at the beginning of the Finale of Act I.

What does this notorious evening teach me? All humans only want sex, women must defend themselves against evil men and war is terrible. Such productions do not serve the understanding of the work in the slightest sense and are the death of opera.


Mordechai Aranowicz
(published on 4 November 2019)

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Marco Ziegler


Marco Ziegler, based in Zürich, went to the opera from the age of 10 and has a keen eye and ear for the developments of the last few decades. Favourite genre: Italian Opera. Favourite operas: Aida, Don Carlo and La Forza del destino.

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