Review by Ron Simpson
Tim Albery’s production of Cosi fan Tutte, first seen at Opera North in 2004 and now on its second revival, is acknowledged as a seriously intelligent response to a problematic opera, writes Ron Simpson.
Despite the bright young cast this latest revival took a while to hit its stride on first night with conductor Jac van Steen tending to caution in tempos, but momentum built steadily from the Act 1 finale onwards.
Cosi fan Tutte is an opera full of paradox. It contains perhaps Mozart’s most beguiling and sensuous music on the subject of love while being based on the most cynical of premises. Don Alfonso is the elderly (or, at least, mature) friend of two impetuous young officers, Guglielmo and Ferrando, who are madly in love with two sisters, Fiordiligi and Dorabella. Alfonso’s scoffing at the women’s fidelity brings on a bet: the lovers must follow Alfonso’s instructions to test the two sisters’ faith in love.
So they pretend to be called away to war, then return in disguise to court Fiordiligi and Dorabella – and Mozart’s librettist Lorenzo da Ponte as subtle as he is cynical – arranges for one sister to fall almost immediately, the other to remain faithful, agonise over her emotions, and then fall! And, of course, each of the women falls for the other’s lover. Is this just proving that all women are the same (one possible translation of the title) or is it saying something more human and more profound? Interestingly enough, the intensely emotional music comes during Don Alfonso’s silly charade, not at the parting of devoted lovers.
With the aid of Tobias Hoheisel’s remarkable set – a huge camera obscura that opens out into an 18th century drawing room – Albery presents it all as a typical experiment of the Enlightenment. Don Alfonso is the scientist/philosopher who manipulates the lovers within his laboratory, wins his bet and then is overwhelmed by the emotion his actions have unleashed. In the perfectly judged final moments his subjects escape the laboratory and he remains trapped inside.
Despite this Don Alfonso has humanity in William Dazeley’s urbane and balanced interpretation, anything but the aged roué. This sense of moderation penetrates the production – even the young men’s disguises are not really silly. The young men in their uniforms and the sisters in identical gowns at the beginning seem to lack individuality which grows with costume changes and emotional crises.
Nicholas Watts (Ferrando) and Gavan Ring (Guglielmo) confirm the good impressions of their performances in last year’s The Barber of Seville, as do Helen Sherman (Dorabella) and Ellie Laugharne (Despina, the sisters’ pertly manipulative servant) from The Marriage of Figaro. However, vocal honours in a cleanly sung performance go to company debutante Maire Flavin who sings Fiordiligi with great beauty and (when needed) emotional intensity.
Cosi fan Tutte runs at Leeds Grand until February 26 and will be at The Lowry at Salford Quays in Manchester from March 16-18