Writer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Director: Benjamin Davies
Reviewer: Shane Morgan
In the programme notes, director Benjamin Davies identifies both sex and death as being major themes of not only Cosi fan tutte but also many other operas. In this case there is some of one and talk of the other.
The plot centres around two couples – Fiordiligi is engaged to Guglielmo and Dorabella is engaged to Ferrando. As couples they couldn’t be more in love and smitten with each other. After a run in with local character/Mephistopheles stand-in Don Alfonso, the two soldiers are set a challenge about their loved ones. Don Alfonso lays down the bold statement that all women are unfaithful. The two men dispute this and so the challenge is on. The ruse is a simple one, Guglielmo and Ferrando suit up, go to war and come back in disguise and try to woo their fiancés as different people. The stakes are high and the men are confident their women will stay faithful and Don Alfonso is confident the women will prove false. Along the way, local maid Despina gets dragged into the scheming but is only told half the story.
There is much to like about Welsh National Opera’s Cosi. Not least is designer Max Jones’ gloriously nostalgic 1950’s English seaside design. It not only adds a level of familiarity to the evening but it also facilitates the comedy in director Benjamin Davies’ concept. It leans towards the absurd rather than the tragic and the cast have a ball embracing the style.
Elizabeth Watts as Fiordiligi is wonderfully cartoony as she progresses from playing faithful to her man, struggling with his departure and wrestling with the attention of her new suitor. Watts completely embraces the style and she lifts the action whenever she is on. Joanne Boag equally raises the stakes with her pawn Despina. Blissfully unaware of Don Alfonso’s true game, she pits men against women and oozes sass. Her Chaplin-esque notary is a wonderful touch.
Bringing the men back in disguise as holiday camp Red Coats also heightens the affair and gives the whole evening the feel of a saucy seaside postcard. Stylistically it remains true to the humour of the naughty postcards or a cheeky 70’s sitcom and the innocence of the humour does mean the dark edge of Don Alfonso’s plot is lost a little. Coming in at nearly 3 ½ hours, it does also feel like a marathon at times, especially during the second half when you feel like you’d like matters wrapped up a little quicker.
Quibbles aside, this is a bright, bold and largely fun interpretation and a welcome addition to the WNO season this year.