No such luck in Cosi fan tutte. Director Hans Neuenfels could not resist competing with the music. In the sublime trio "Soave sia il vento," for example, the singers had to pass a toy ship around. Two men imitating dogs cavorted all over Fiordiligi (Catherine Naglestad) as she sang "Come scoglio"; the same dogs were later poisoned by Guglielmo (Natale de Carolis) as he sang "Donne mie."
A tough act to follow
Also popping up were giant insects and flowers (perhaps to tell us that birds do it, bees do it, even educated Viennese do it); men, one of them blind, in business suits and fedoras; cupids sporting red boxing gloves and sneakers; and numbers assigned to the three men in the opera (1, 2 and 13--- go figure).
Forget about the disguises called for in the libretto. Here, the four principals basically wore the same unisex white outfits throughout. This brilliant comedy of the sexes thus was reduced to a pseudo-intellectual, impersonal and strangely unfunny exercise. At least it all fell very pleasantly on the ears. The singing had genuine style across the board and the Vienna Philharmonic purred nicely for conductor Lothar Zagrosek.
The Mortier legacy will be debated in the chic outdoor cafes of Salzburg for many years to come, and his decade of experimentation and adventure will be a tough act to follow for his successor, German composer Peter Ruzicka.
A festival is, by definition, something special, something apart from the routine season. It's a good excuse to try out new things, even weird things, to stretch artists and audiences alike. In this, Mortier's Salzburg Festival has to be considered a major achievement.
Perhaps the next chapter will be just as novel, or more like the old Karajan days. Either way, it is sure to survive and, like Salzburg itself, continue generating an extraordinary magnetic pull.