MOZART Così fan tutte (Philippe Jordan)
Practise some patience with this one. In selecting choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker to direct its new production of Così fan tutte, the Opéra de Paris was perhaps hoping to provoke. Dance is as integral to the action as singing, with each of the six characters having a dancer double. When all 12 enter the naked, white space at the start of the opera and gather around circles drawn on the Palais Garnier stage, I had my doubts, not least because I tire of productions where the sisters – Fiordiligi and Dorabella – are complicit in the wager Don Alfonso strikes with his young soldier friends, Ferrando and Guglielmo. Stick with it, though, because it may well win you round (as it did me).
It helps if you are familiar with the abstract work of Keersmaeker’s Rosas Company, whose dancers provide the doubles here. Forget tutus and dancing en pointe; hers is a spare, minimalistic style (some of her most famous work is to music by Steve Reich) where dancers walk or run, often in geometric-obsessed patterns. Keersmaeker’s meticulous choreography is often static, no more than a raised foot or a neck bend at times, but is integral to the production, in counterpoint to the music and often hypnotic. Don’t expect the usual stage directions either. Props are at a minimum (there’s a drinks cabinet at the side of the stage) and dancers occasionally bring in costume changes for their doubles.
What’s especially impressive is how Keersmaeker’s game cast of singers seem completely immersed in this style, often mirroring the same moves as their doubles. A dancer might sway and swirl and gyrate around the stage to depict an aria sung by their counterpart, as if an unconscious extension. Indeed, it’s the tension between what is being sung and how the character truly feels that Keersmaeker seems most interested in exploring. Detractors could claim there are two different performances going on.
Jacquelyn Wagner is a poised Fiordiligi, with plenty of power for ‘Come scoglio’, while Michèle Losier sings a stylish Dorabella. Ginger Costa-Jackson – who often performs Dorabella opposite her sister Marina – makes for a spunky Despina, whose double gets a fine solo for ‘Una donna a quindici anni’. The men are even finer, particularly Philippe Sly’s Guglielmo. The Canadian bass-baritone, who impressed me enormously as Don Giovanni in Aix this summer, has a magnetic stage presence and embraces the dance elements with panache. Frédéric Antoun is a honeyed Ferrando, while charcoal-voiced bass Paolo Szot – another elegant mover – presents a sympathetic Don Alfonso. With Philippe Jordan drawing excellent orchestral playing from the pit, with witty fortepiano recitatives, this is a most unusual Così which eventually had me hooked.