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Welsh National Opera: Così fan Tutte – New Theatre, Oxford

Reviewer: Simon Tavener

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Libretto: Lorenzo Da Ponte

Director: Max Hoehn

Conductor: Frederick Brown

It is hard to imagine a more accessible, charming and well sung production of Mozart’s ever popular opera about the trials of love than Max Hoehn’s new version for Welsh National Opera. Hoehn reimagines the piece as taking place in a secondary school during the late 60s. This immediately gives audiences a clear understanding of the key relationships and how teenagers can be prone to heightened emotions as well as being easily manipulated by people in authority. It also provides ample opportunity to draw out the humour in the libretto which in some more austere productions can get sidelined.

The new setting gives set designer Jemima Robinson many opportunities for visual humour as well as providing the perfect school backdrop for the action.

The orchestra of WNO has never sounded better. Frederick Brown conducts with a lightness of touch and maintains the drama through wisely judged tempi. The obbligato sections of the score, particularly from the horns and woodwind are as close to perfection as you are likely to hear. It is a very mature interpretation from a conductor with a bright future ahead of him.

Another of the enduring strengths of the company is the chorus. They each relish their roles as school kids as well as adding a beautifully blended sound to the performance. A special mention must go to the rugby player and the school boy who enjoy a Heartstopper moment during Ferrando’s Act 1 aria – a delightful detail.

The six principal characters each deliver strong, characterful performances with plenty of vocal finesse. The blend of voices is always precise but never precious.

The stand out performance comes from Kayleigh Decker as Dorabella. Possessed with a warm, even mezzo, she is a natural actor with an engaging presence. She is well matched with Sophie Evans as Fiordiligi who is a singer whose career will continue to flourish over the coming years.

James Atkinson brings his robust yet flexible baritone and comic timing to the role of Guglielmo and forms a winning partnership with the elegantly sung Ferrando of Egor Zhuravskii. They both rise to the vocal demands of the music with apparent ease.

Rounding out the cast are the experienced hands of José Fardilha (Don Alfonso) and Rebecca Evans (Despina). Fardilha has a natural air of authority that is matched by his smooth baritone and Evans, a long time WNO favourite, is clearly having the time of her life in a comic gem of a performance.

Overall this is an entertaining and polished production that engages the audience from the opening bars of the overture and does not falter. It, perhaps, does not fully explore the misogyny and cruelty present in the libretto but the lighter tone and musical sophistication work beautifully to deliver something rather delightful. It is a production that works as an introduction to opera for novices as well as satisfying seasoned veterans who have seen the piece countless times.

Reviewed on 27 March 2024 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Utterly Charming

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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