Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Librettist: Lorenzo da Ponte
Director: Tim Albery
Conductor: Anthony Kraus
Reviewer: Charlotte Broadbent
Opera North’s latest production of Cosi Fan Tutte is both light hearted and fun but morally and intellectually probing. In a show that’s so unavoidably misogynistic it makes sense not to avoid it. Director, Tim Albery has found a way to remain faithful to the original opera but cast new light of the piece as a whole.
The opera opens with two young soldiers Ferrando (Nicholas Watts) and Guglielmo (Gavan Ring) exclaiming that they are certain their respective lovers will always remain faithful to them. Don Alfonso (William Dazeley), an old philosopher makes a bet with them that he can prove that all women are the same and that given the opportunity their women will betray them. We then meet Dorabella (Helen Sherman) and Fiordiligi (Máire Flavin) who are both talking about their lovers when suddenly Don Alfonso bursts in and delivers the terrible news that their men have been immediately called on the serve in the war. The women are devastated and fall into a state of mourning. The two women and Don Alfonso gaze out to the sea to watch their men sail away singing Soave sia il vento, a timeless crowd pleaser.
A large and beautifully designed 18th Century camera obscura dominates the space and serves as the entire set. While striking to look at is does make for an awkward first scene where Don Alfonso, Guglielmo and Ferrando must move fluidly around what space they have and perform the scene intended to take place in a café, which is alluded to only by the presence of one teacup which moves between the three of them. The front wall of the camera is then raised for the second scene to reveal Dorabella and Fiordiligi inside their home. As this first scene is the only scene to take place outside of the interior of the camera it is easily forgiven. Interestingly designer Tobias Hoheisel has refrained from decorating the women’s house but kept the design to that of the inside of a camera. The walls are matt black and detail is only provided by chalk markings on the wall. A huge concave mirror occupies one wall, and the opposite wall is pulled out slightly to allow more space but also looks like a camera getting things into focus. The two main sets of doors in the women’s house are operated like sliding doors which is a slightly surreal element and does pre-empt exits and entrances.
Albery has found an intriguing way of using the character of Don Alfonso as the puppet master to all four of the lovers, so that this is not merely a test of the women’s valour but the folly of all young lovers. At the top of each act Don Alfonso walks on stage, considers the audience, then leaves. In the first scene he is polishing the huge camera and at the end of the first act he is the only character who is able to step out of the camera. This emphasises the notion that all of the characters are for Don Alfonso’s consideration and experimentation, he observes their life through a lens. In the final sextet all four lovers step out from the camera to demonstrate their new found knowledge.
Laugharne is charming as Despina brimming with energy, a very generous performance. Ring is captivating as Guglielmo and is paired with Watts as Ferrando. The pair are well matched vocally and find plenty of humour within their roles making their performance reminiscent of Morcambe and Wise. Flavin is stunning as Fiordiligi and Sherman is a witty Dorabella.
A interesting take on a classic and beautifully performed.
Reviewed on 16th March | Photo: Tristram Kenton