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WNO: Cosi Fan Tutte – Liverpool Empire Theatre

Book: Lorenzo da Ponte

Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Director: Benjamin Davies

Conductor: Mark Wrigglesworth

Reviewer: Jamie Gaskin


With a plot to make a Panto blush it was apt for the Welsh National Opera to set Cosi Fan Tutte in a British resort with scenes often resembling saucy seaside postcards.

The cynical Alfonso (Steven Page) convinces Italian sailors Ferrando (Andrew Tortise) and Guglielmo (Gary Griffiths) that the two sisters to whom they are betrothed would go off with other men once their back was turned. He offers a handsome wager and the men agree to pretend to go off to war and to return thinly disguised as Redcoats to woo each others’ fiancés.

Such are the demands to suspend disbelief that the outlandish Pier Entertainers who make up the chorus are perfect for director Benjamin Davis’ cartoonesque version of the colourful capers devised by Lorenzo da Ponte.

But it is the music of Mozart and his legendary ability to stir the emotions that is at the centre of the piece. Conductor Mark Wrigglesworth and his orchestra deftly serving those on stage without being too self-conscious.

The arias by the two sisters Fiordiligi (Elizabeth Watts) and Dorabella (Maire Flavin) were quite stunning, in particular the distress that poured out from them when their men “went off to war.”

Of the men Griffiths entered into the over-the-top nature of the character more than his co-conspirator Tortise, slightly overshadowing him. Tortise’s voice just occasionally lost its emotional sincerity.

Alfonso uses Despina (Joanne Boag), the maid at the small boarding house where the girls live, to fuel the flames of betrayal. This is a pivotal rôle in the machinations as she doubles as the doctor who cures the men when they “poison themselves” in the name of love and the notary brought in to seal the marriage to prove the women’s infidelity.

Probably her finest hour was a musical frolic in the girls’ bathroom where seated on the toilet she pretends to be a queen dispensing honours with her loo brush as a sceptre. Giving a whole new meaning to the phrase splashing on toilet water.

This bathroom being the setting for Fiordiligi to pour out her tortured heart as Ferrando seduces her. Having her “true” lover Guglielmo scaling the ladder to witness this betrayal was perhaps a comic facet too far. A distraction from the true torment explored by the opera at the core of this wonderful aria so movingly sung by Watts.

The ending seemed a little confusing and disappointing with the audience willing forgiveness for the two women who were so mercilessly goaded into their infidelities despite their attempts to stay true.

Overall a great night out with a cavalcade of superb songs lovingly sung by inspired artists.

Photo: Catherine Ashmore

Reviewed on 22nd November


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