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Cosi Fan Tutte

Libretto by Da Ponte, music by Mozart
English Touring Opera
Lyceum, Sheffield

Cosi Fan Tutte Credit: Robert Workman
Cosi Fan Tutte Credit: Robert Workman
Cosi Fan Tutte Credit: Robert Workman

Cosi fan Tutte is the third in a trilogy of operas written in conjunction with Italian librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. Composed in 1789, it is an example of opera buffa, a term applied originally to Italian comic operas characterised by an everyday setting, local dialects and clear diction.

Cosi fan Tutte (Thus do All Women) is a delightful confection which lives up to its subtitle The School of Love. We are introduced to two pairs of lovers, Guglielmo and Fiordiligi, and Ferrando and Dorabella, all deeply in love. Don Alfonso, a friend of the two young soldiers, cynically casts doubt on the constancy of the female sex, and bets that the two young women will not be able to withstand a love test.

The soldiers pretend to leave for the front, but return almost immediately disguised as Albanians, and use every strategy they can think of, including a mock suicide, to win the affections of their friend’s sweetheart. So, in the central section of the opera the pairing changes: Guglielmo pursues Dorabella; and Ferrando the more resistant Fiordiligi. The sisters’ worldly maid, Despina, is enlisted by Don Alfonso to further the plot, disguised as a doctor and later, a notary.

Director Paul Higgins and Designer Samal Blak have opted for a harmonious simplicity in performance style, set and costume design. On first impression the dominant colour is cream: in the attractive, functional set with its central swing (reminiscent of Fragonard); the cream coloured britches and waistcoats of the men, which combined with a red spot of colour on the cheeks, makes them look like Italian china puppets; and, when grouped with the women in their elegantly styled, floating cream dresses, like porcelain figurines.

The disguises are comedic, obvious to the audience, though, given the comic convention, completely convincing to the sisters. The Albanian outfits, vaguely Egyptian (or Moroccan) with lightly sketched moustaches and funny hats, allow plenty of opportunity for eccentric movement and comic business. The disguised Despina appears in a see-through facsimile of the Commedia dell’Arte dottore mask and in a voluminous and very obvious wig as the notary. All this helps to make the developing action crystal clear.

Conductor James Burton and a small orchestra, hidden away in the pit of the Lyceum, give an accomplished performance of the score, with variation in pace which is helpful to the singers in more demanding arias. The quality of the singing and acting is outstanding. There are excellent performances from Laura Mitchell, an elegant and accomplished Fiordiligi, and Kitty Whately, a charming, lively and expressive Dorabella.

The Act 1 trio, with Richard Mosely-Evans as a characterful Don Alfonso, is beautifully sung and deeply moving. Mitchell is also very impressive in the demanding coloratura parts of her role, coping with excellent technique and considerable artistry with the huge leaps from one end of a scale to another.

Toby Girling as Gugliemo and Anthony Gregory as Ferrando make an effective team as the male lovers, give lively and entertaining comic performances and complement one another vocally, as in Secondate aurette amiche in Act 2. As Despina, Paula Sides makes the most of the comic possibilities of her role, and is particularly strong in the second half when she has more opportunity to display her voice.

Although there is some suggestion in the programme that there is a mis-correspondence between the extreme beauty of Mozart’s music and the superficial aspects of the love tangle that is the plot, the delight of this production is its light touch, which allows the audience to respond to music which embodies complex feelings about love and loss, even though these are being presented in a comic and light hearted context.

This production is touring until 30th May.

Reviewer: Velda Harris