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The August issue of “Opera”, an English publication, had a polemical denunciation of The Calixto Bieito production of Cosi fan tutte, one of many cries of outrage at what seemed to be a gratuitous trashing of the Mozart classic by a stage director who had run out of ideas.

Now comes “Opera Now”, also published in the U. K., with its defense of the indefensible. The article quotes Brian McMaster of the Edinburgh Festival who says this about the Welsh National Opera production in question:

“This was the first time that Cosi was shown to be what it is actually about—which having serial sex, and feeling dirty and disgusted with yourself as a result. That feeling of disgust was there in a way that I’ve never seen in the piece and I’m sure was what Mozart and da Ponte were writing about.”

McMaster is obviously an idiot. The tired post-Freudian interpretation that he gives to Bieito’s production (and who knows what, if anything, the director had in mind) is completely anachronistic. To say that it was not only what the creators of Cosi had in mind but that it was the main (or only) thing is laughable.

I have no problems with presenting classic works from new points of view, but the production should have some relationship to the music and text. If the production does not serve the music and text it should be billed appropriately—for example Calixto Bieito’s Cosi fan tutte, music by Mozart, words by da Ponte.

Mozart survived the pastiche operas of Paris in the early part of the 19th century, when “The Magic Flute”, was presented with its music rewritten to include excepts from “Don Giovanni”, “The Marriage of Figaro” and “La Clamenza di Tito”, some characters added and others eliminated. It was the most frequently performed opera in Paris from 1799 to 1809.

“Don Giovanni” also suffered. The masked trio was sung by three police agents, the cemetery scene was staged at an inn and and eruption Mount Vesusvius destroyed Giovanni’s palace. Of the music only the overture remained intact and in its original place. A pianist named Kalkbrenner composed accompaniment for several new recitiatives and arias.

So if Wolfgang and Lorenzo can survive that, they will stagger through the current round of outrages. Knowing that (or hoping it) doesn’t make it any more fun, though.

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