Covent Garden’s new production of Cosi Fan Tutte is fizzing with fresh ideas. Young German director, Jan Philipp Glogier, paints Don Alfonso as a surreal theatre director putting the four lovers into a series of improvised scenarios to test out their views and feelings about love and fidelity. This really is the School for Lovers of the opera’s subtitle. And Gloger has a first rate cast to help him bring to life a plot that is all too often treated as a heartless farce. It is so much more than that – Da Ponte’s witty words and Mozart’s sublime music are all about the follies of romantic love and the need to base lasting relationships on trust and honesty.
Guglielmo and Ferrando are two young soldiers who believe their lovers, sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, are perfect. Their friend, Don Alfonso, warns them that they expect too much and that they would be wise to remove the women from their pedestals and love them for who they really are – “are they goddesses, or are they women?” he says. The young men won’t listen and eventually agree to take part in a scheme cooked up by Don Alfonso to test the fidelity of the women. The men pretend depart for the front-line then return in disguise to woo the women. Don Alfonso is assisted in running his subterfuges by Despina, the women’s worldly-wise maid. Don Alfonso’s predictions prove all too true.
In this production it is clear right at the beginning of the second act that the women know what is going on. Despite the ‘selfies’ of their first scene, they are not the air-head victims of a silly charade. What drives the drama – and quickens the moral pulse of the piece – is that, despite their good intentions, they have developed feelings for the ‘wrong man’. Dorabella finds that it is not her disguised lover Ferrando that she is attracted to – it is her sister’s fiancé, Guglielmo. The tension in Gloger’s version of the opera, as it transforms in the second act from comic to serious, is in this examination of the fickleness of physical attraction and it applies as much to the men as to the women.
The cast is excellent. No-one quite reaches the vocal heights that Mozart’s music offers but all are fine actors committed to Gloger’s vision of the work. Winters is a splendid tormented Fiordiligi and sings her two highpoint arias with panache. Brower is a fun-loving Dorabella and her duets with her more serious sister work well. Behle has a lovely tenor voice which almost reached perfection in Un Aura Amorosa. Arduini carries off Guglielmo’s swagger with style. Johannes Martin Kranzle nails the wit of Don Alfonso as he conjures up scenarios to test the lovers and he is matched by a wonderful performance from Sabina Puertolas as Despina, more barmaid than ladies maid.
Semyon Bychkov must be a singer’s dream as a conductor of Mozart. He allows time and space for his singers and brings the best out of the brilliant Royal Opera orchestra, even when accompanying recitative.
The piece looks wonderful thanks to designer, Ben Baur – from a “Brief Encounter” setting for the farewell to the departing soldiers to a stunning eighteenth century opera house for the garden scene – and there is a great joke that runs as the overture is playing. Not everyone will love Gloger’s vision of the opera – there were a couple of “boo-ers” at the press night. The production is not totally successful but it is good to see the Royal Opera taking thoughtful risks with the great classics and this production is well worth a place in the Covent Garden repertoire.