Così fan tutte – opera buffa in two Acts to a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte [sung in an English translation by Jeremy Sams, with English surtitles]
Fiordiligi – Nardus Williams
Dorabella – Hanna Hipp
Ferrando – Amitai Pati
Guglielmo – Benson Wilson
Don Alfonso – Neal Davies
Despina – Soraya Mafi
Skills ensemble – Leo Aleksander, Yasmine Amiss, Senyat Asefa Amare, Bendy Bendini, Jessica Catherine, Luke James Chadwick-Jones, Leah Debrincat, Tommaso Di Vincenzo, Ben Goffe, Anton Puss, Fatemeh Sarebani, Lilly Snatchdragon
Chorus & Orchestra of English National Opera
Phelim McDermott – Director
Tom Pye – Set Designer
Laura Hopkins – Costume Designer
Paule Constable – Lighting Designer
Andy Cutbush – Revival Lighting Designer
Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell
Reviewed: 16 March, 2022
Venue: The Coliseum, London
This is a welcome revival of Phelim McDermott’s colourful, penetrating staging of Mozart and Da Ponte’s most complex, enigmatic and mysterious collaboration. Set in and around a motel bordering on a theme park/pleasure garden complete with rides, diners and populated by performance artists (the ever-present Skills ensemble) promulgates the idea that all human interactions have an illusory nature, and nothing is quite what it seems. That of course mirrors the undercurrents of the opera.
Brilliantly it doesn’t really judge the sometimes less than appealing protagonists but deftly allows one to sympathise or be infuriated by each of them in turn. All the impersonations of the original are retained and played ‘straight’; Tom Pye’s fluidly adaptable sets facilitate setting up the situations and dark humour. It is a production that raises just as many questions as it answers about the nature of deceit and self-deceit.
There is a great and balanced cast, too, and they pivot around the agile and responsive conducting of Kerem Hasan. Crisp, airy textures and some beautiful detail emerges as part of a fleet reading. Lively crisp recitatives too – where all the singers managed to project the words of Jeremy Sams’s witty translation. Best in this regard, and particularly so in their arias, are Neal Davies’s fruitily sung and sardonic Don Alfonso and Soraya Mafi’s glinting soprano illuminating her pert, cynical Despina.
The pairs of ‘lovers’ are also nicely matched. Nardus Williams’s Fiordiligi is treasurable. She has a lovely creamy voice, great agility and yet the tone is almost peppery – this bite means this more serious-minded of the two sisters becomes the real focal point of the action. It blends particularly well with Amitai Pati’s slightly reedy yet suave-voiced Ferrando. Perhaps his voice is a little light for the barn that is the Coliseum, Benson Williams gives Guglielmo a burly presence, and likeable demeanour but emerges later as the character who perhaps is most affected by and least likely to forgive the events of ‘the day’. Hanna Hipp’s Dorabella is another of her repertoire of individual interpretations – less frivolous and more volatile than many. Her velvety mezzo sounds great in the house. Great contributions by the small chorus, too. Hugely enjoyable and provocative.