Cosi fan tutte at the Capitole de Toulouse

I’ve just spent a fantastic week-end at Toulouse, staying with my good friends Louis-Roch and Vanessa, who have been out there for a year and badly missing Paris. Despite not being crazy about the French provinces myself, I’m extremely fond of them, so I was only too glad to accept their invitation.

As it happens, I also rather liked this Cosi at the Capitole de Toulouse, directed by Monsieur Nicolas Joel, with whom I also had luncheon on Friday. My first provincial opera! The contrast with Paris was amazing: the audience was stuffy and bourgeois to a point that I would not have thought possible even a hundred years ago, let alone in the twenty-first century. The contrast with the disheveled crowd at the Opera Bastille or the Palais Garnier could not have been more striking, with everyone proudly wearing their “Sunday best.” We realized to our amusement we were pretty much the youngest people there, the average age being anything between fifty-five and sixty-five.

The Capitole de Toulouse is an original place. M Joel explained to me that it was founded in 1760 and has never shut since. The Paris opera (1669) is older, but that’s still quite a respectable pedigree. The interior, though, is quite hideous, having been subjected to a series of disasrous restructurings between 1920 and 1974. Richard Peduzzi recently repainted the ceilings in a rather flamboyant trompe-l’oeil style: the result is amusing but gave me quite a headache after about three hours.

Perhaps I should just say a quick word about the performance itself: it could best be described as very pleasantly simple, which is always appropriate with Mozart’s operas. I infinitely preferred it to Chéreau’s Cosi (the set for which, by the way, was designed by the ubiquitous M Peduzzi) that I had seen in Paris in September. The orchestra was firmly but elegantly conducted by German chef Claus Peter Flor. The subdued decoration suited the small size of the Capitole stage and contrasted pleasantly with the excessive trendiness of the Chéreau version. The voices, especially Dorabella (Sophie Koch) and Despina (Anne-Catherine Gillet), were also delightful.