Suntory Hall closes opera series with racy tale from Mozart

by Chiho Iuchi

“Cosi fan tutte” (“Women are like that”), composed in 1790, was regarded as an immoral tale of fiancee swapping during the 19th century. While it offended sensibilities then, today the work is considered one of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s most sophisticated operas, and it will be staged at Suntory Hall in March.

“This is the final round of our Mozart opera trilogy and will be the pinnacle of our ‘Hall Opera’ series,” says executive producer Keiko Manabe, who has been at the helm of the hall’s operatic endeavors from the beginning.

Suntory Hall, which opened in 1986 in Tokyo’s Akasaka district, was the first building in Japan designed exlusively for classical concerts, and it was mostly used for instrumentals at first. In 1989, Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” was the first concert-style opera to be held there, and Manabe has continued to produce the series annually ever since.

Ahead of Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” in 1993, the series was repackaged as “Hall Opera.” Suntory Hall took a bolder direction by employing a more dynamic setting that brought the audience closer to the stage.

“The attraction of ‘Hall Opera’ is a sense of unity with the performers,” Manabe says.

With advice from prominent conductor Herbert von Karajan (1908-89), Suntory Hall utilizes a Berliner Philharmoniker- style vineyard configuration, in which the stage is surrounded by the seats to create outstanding acoustics.

“Typical opera houses are furnished with an orchestra pit, which separates the audience from the stage. There is no pit here. The orchestra is on stage and the singers perform very close to you. You could even touch them,” Manabe says laughing.

The design also enables better communication between the orchestra members and the singers, who perform next to each other.

Since 2008, Suntory Hall has showcased “Mozart & Da Ponte 2008-2010,” a series that features Mozart’s three operas with Italian libretto written by Lorenzo Da Ponte. Following “The Marriage of Figaro” in 2008 and “Don Giovanni” in 2009, “Cosi fan tutte” will be led by the same Italian pair behind the previous productions, Nicola Luisotti and Gabriele Lavia.

Luisotti, a rising conductor, is certain to present lively music and draw out impeccable performances from the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. He will conduct while simultaneously playing the harpsichord, just as Mozart did in his time.

Lavia, a renowned stage director, aims to revive the atmosphere of life in 18th-century Italy during the age of Mozart. Singers will appear in period costumes and the stage will be decorated with pieces of fine oriental furniture, which will be carried in and out by a team of Pulcinella. The character Pulcinella appears in traditional Italian comedy and is one of the symbols of Naples, where the story is set.

“What is curious about these Pulcinella is that their costumes are not in typical white,” explains Manabe. “Lavia dresses them all in black like kuroko, stagehands in traditional Japanese theater. A lover of Japanese culture, Lavia was inspired by kabuki.”

Among the performers, Austrian baritone Markus Werba, Italian soprano Serena Farnocchia and Italian bass Enzo Capuano will return for the third time in the series. Spanish soprano Davinia Rodriguez will return after performing in “Don Giovanni” last year. The newly featured singers are Georgian soprano Nino Surguladze and Italian tenor Francesco Demuro.

“In this opera, two thirds of the songs are in multiple voice parts. Our selected singers will perform wonderful ensembles. You will surely enjoy the truth of love tactics between men and women,” Manabe says with smile.

While the “Hall Opera” series has thrilled fans over the past 18 years, Suntory Hall is postponing it next year. “Cosi fan tutte” hopes to please audiences with one more aria before the final bow.

“Cosi fan Tutte” takes place at Suntory Hall in Tokyo at 4 p.m. on March 14 and 20; at 6:30 p.m. on March 17. Tickets are ¥15,000-27,000. For more information, call (03) 3584-9999 or visit www.suntory.co.jp/suntoryhall