Opera UK – Così Fan Tutte

Così fan tutte, K588 – Opera buffa in two acts [Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte; sung in the English translation by Jeremy Sams]

Ferrando – Glenn Tweedie
Guglielmo – John Savournin
Don Alfonso – Dominic Barrand
Fiordiligi – Belinda Evans
Dorabella – Nicola Pulford
Despina – Melanie Lodge

Bernardi Music Group [Andy Liang & Andrew Bernardi (violins), Virginia Slater (viola), Mick Allen (cello) &Stephen Hose (piano & musical direction)]

John Mullis – Producer
Jane McCulloch – Director
Alison Hall – Costumes
Hats by Bridget Armstrong Hats

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 11 November, 2007
Venue: Concert Hall, Blackheath Concert Halls, London SE3

Mozart’s “Così fan tutte” can be a bit of a bore. Too often it is given long-winded productions that overstress the comic elements to the detriment of the more serious vein of betrayal that runs through it. Comedy in opera can be a liability if it’s not handled with care. Opera UK’s production doesn’t have that problem. Director Jane McCulloch has trimmed the piece for touring purposes to a manageable length of about two-and-a-half hours which is just right.

Basically ‘Così’ (not my favourite Mozart opera, I must admit) has a single joke about the fickleness of women. However, Mozart, being the master he is, can sustain most of the confusion engendered in Da Ponte’s libretto. It’s also about how cruel somebody on the outside, namely Don Ferrando, can be. He is on his own, as far as we know, and perhaps out of jealousy or plain nasty indifference, sets up the two soldiers by betting that their fiancées could under certain circumstances be as unfaithful as any single woman.

Once the bet is placed, matters go awry. The soldiers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, pretend to go off to war, returning disguised as ‘Albanians’ (although here they are in Arab mufti) and start to make love to them. The women, sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi, respond but fall for the opposite number and not their own betrothed. This adds a neat twist to the situation and the Opera UK cast handle the switch with both good humour and a subtle sort of sadness.

Characterisation is well-developed. The two sisters (who actually do look like sisters here) are opposite in temperament, as Dorabella is the dreamy one, while Fiordiligi is the more practical. The scenes between Belinda Evans’s Fiordiligi and John Savournin’s Guglielmo are really very moving. At the start Savournin has all the louche, laid-back charisma – and indeed the good looks – of Hugh Grant but he manages to make the role darker as the opera progresses. Nicola Pulford’s Dorabella and Glenn Tweedie’s Ferrando are different again but contribute good performances without ever going over the top, which is something too easily done in ‘Cosi’.

The oily charm of the appalling Don Alfonso is well captured in Dominic Barrand’s performance and Melanie Lodge is skittishly comic as the maid Despina who is out to make every penny she can from the deception. So, on the surface a farcical comedy but underneath it is a treacherous joke played on the innocent and the gullible.

Jane McCulloch keeps the piece fresh, setting it on an early summer’s day in 1914, which gives it an extra frisson as the two officers will probably be going off to War , never to return, so that the two sisters left behind may well need to find themselves suitable replacements in the very near future, or even earlier than you might think, as the director keeps an ace up her sleeve until the last moment of the opera.

In the absence of an orchestra, it is a good idea to use a piano quintet instead of ‘just’ piano accompaniment to give Mozart’s “Così fan tutte” full rein. Stephen Hose’s direction of the Bernardi Music Group is impeccable. Even these smallish forces do give the production an added lift and embed the whole thing in the music itself and not just the sound of the voices. Next year sees a full UK tour for this most sunny of productions which is simple, straightforward, amusing and light on its toes. The young cast handle Jeremy Sams’s idiosyncratic English translation well.

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