Così Fan Tutte
Music by Mozart, libretto by da Ponte
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring
Tim Albery's production of Così, returning to Newcastle after five years, still feels as fresh and insightful as when I first saw it in 2004. In fact, his idea of treating the story as an experiment in human nature, is, in the light of years of Big Brother and I'm a Celebrity, even more impactful.
It is set (design by Tobias Hoheisel) within a huge scientific instrument which opens out to reveal a sketched room - black walls and a couple of doors (which open automatically) with any details simply indicated by white, chalk-like lines, plus four very basic white chairs and a table - which suggests a psychological experiment's rats' maze. Keeping the small cast - just six people: the two sets of lovers, the experimenter Don Alfonso and his "assistant", the maid Despina (we never see the chorus which only has a tiny part to play anyway) - within this claustrophobic space concentrates our attention on the psychological journeys the lovers undergo.
It also points up what could be considered the unsatisfactory (in human terms) ending: tutte may indeed behave così, but the men are no better. What they put each other's lover through is not perhaps as bad as what poor Grizelda suffers but, even allowing for the fact that there is some competition between them as to whose lover is the most faithful, they are pretty keen to enjoy their flirtations. And Despina hardly comes out of it very well either, willing to betray her employers for what is a very small amount of money. And as for the "natural philosopher" Don Alfonso - well, perhaps the opera should more correctly be titled Così fan tutte e tutti! Can any of them henceforward trust any of the others? Perhaps Don Alonso is right and that, given what has been revealed about human nature, they should all just make the best of it.
It has been, as one would expect, totally recast for this revival, with Elizabeth Atherton as Fiordiligi, Victoria Simmonds as Dorabella, Quirijn De Lang as Gugliemo, Allan Clayton as Ferrando, Amy Freston as Despina and Geoffrey Dolton as Don Alfonso. It's a strong cast who can act as well as sing and the Opera North Orchestra under Andrew Parrott provides sympathetic support as Mozart's score plays with its recurring themes, carrying the story along like the currents of the sea, first heard in Ah, guarda, sorella.
It's a clever and very enjoyable version of Così with rather more to say about the human condition than many versions of this popular opera. The Newcastle audience certainly seemed to enjoy it I very definitely did.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan