Compare Michael Haneke's 'Cosi' with the L.A. Phil's

Compare Michael Haneke's 'Cosi' with the L.A. Phil's
Michael Haneke's 2013 production of Mozart's 'Cosi fan Tutte' (Javier del Real)

When the Austrian director Michael Haneke picked up his Oscar for “Amour” last year, he was all smiles. The acclaim for “Amour” offered classical music lovers something to smile about as well, since Haneke’s sensitive use of Schubert is essential in making the disturbing story about aging engrossing and moving.

Operagoers in Madrid, however, were maybe a little more inclined to frown that Oscar night, given that Haneke was not on hand to take a curtain call for his inspired new production of Mozart’s “Così fan Tutte” at Teatro Real. That production is now on DVD and Blu-ray. It is Oscar quality, and this weekend is an excellent time to catch up with it, given that Friday night the Los Angeles Philharmonic unveils its own new production of Mozart’s opera at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Expectations run high for this conclusion of the orchestra's cycle of the three late Mozart comic operas with librettos by Lorenzo Da Ponte, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, directed by Christopher Alden and, this time, with sight-specific sets by Zaha Hadid and costumes by Hussein Chalayan.

Of all Mozart's operas, "Così" is the most ambiguous and thus most open to different interpretations. Whatever Alden and crew come up with will invariably be vastly dissimilar to Haneke's elegantly cinematic approach.

The Disney Da Ponte cycle is in fact practically film-proof. None of the operas have been documented. The productions are about being in the present moment. Haneke’s “Così,” on the other hand, is hard to imagine working as well in the theater as it does on the screen.

The set is one of those stunningly minimalist modern European interiors that he often enjoys using in his films. Most of the characters wear modern dress, but some are coated and bewigged in 1790 fashion from when the opera was written. The late 18th century was the start of the sexual revolution, and Haneke reveals just how little has changed when it comes to sexual politics.  

We may think we now reveal more of ourselves in the post-Freudian age of social media disclosers and all that. But when it comes to lovers, the greatness of “Così” is how it shows that we are simply not fully wired to know what is going on with our own hormones at all times.
Da Ponte, a Lothario in his own right, debates the rights, wrongs and necessities of dalliance. Mozart offers musical perspective into uncertainty. And Haneke's rivetingly theatrical, brilliantly acted, well-sung and visually stunning production with a terrific but non-stellar cast, conducted by Sylvain Cambreling, provides a study in facades, drawing an exquisitely fine line between questioning and accepting.