Cosi fan tutte completes the holy trio of opera buffa collaborations between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte. The partnership resulted in a trademark light-hearted comedic style in which the characters engineer devilish schemes to entrap their counterparts in compromising situations. Trust and fidelity are not concepts held in high regard – an initial show of faithfulness and devotion is interpreted as merely a façade that conceals the treachery within. Jan Philipp Gloger’s version scratches away at this thin veneer to reveal an entirely contrasting situation underneath. Exemplified in the fantastical sets by Ben Baur, this production capitalises on a whimsical, almost fantastical, web that the puppeteer Don Alfonso (Johannes Martin Kränzle) weaves. There is, however, little sense of the underlying philosophical debate that rages throughout the work and indeed the period in which it was first performed.
“Women are like that,” is all the explanation provided as to why Dorabella (Angela Brower) and Fiordiligi (Corinne Winters) behave as they do, and why they are lured and tempted to sample the delights of other men once their beaus are sent away to war; their brains must just be wired like that. Of course, if this is true then how can Ferrando (Daniel Behle) and Guglielmo (Alessio Arduini) possibly be angry at their respective partners, if their behaviour is simply in their nature? Interestingly, though, the men are in fact also pawns being manipulated and moved at will into engineering the situations that lead their lovers astray. Perhaps in Mozart and Da Ponte’s eyes, men are just like that too.
In this more modern adaptation however, it is still the women portrayed as the helpless victims. They pout and pose and take selfies on their phones; they scream and shriek when confronted by men in a bar; yet don’t feel they can stand up for themselves and say no to the letches that see they are without male protection. Gloger’s modern day setting jars with the traditional 18th century values that showcase women merely as property for men to covet and own.
Gloger’s cast are catapulted from real life settings to those much more of the imagination – even the Garden of Eden makes an appearance as Don Alfonso snakes his way around the women with sidekick Despina (Sabina Puértolas), tempting them with forbidden fruits to ply their purity away from them. It’s all a show and an act. The women may be caught up in the spell, but the falsity of the charade is all too apparent for the audience. Those watching see the stage hands moving the props of this theatrical setting. They wait in the background and behind the makeshift scenes, even playing cards and drinking until their next cue. Whilst highlighting the absurdity of the situation, Gloger’s production feels too farcical, less like a comedy opera and more like a melodramatic pantomime. Is Window Twanky waiting in the wings for the next big entrance?
If Gloger’s vision was a production that teeters on the edge of credibility, the singers themselves take full licence to plunge headlong into a world of overreaction and over-hammed characterisation. Don Alfonso (Kränzle) and Despina (Puértolas) slink around the stage as ringmaster and unperturbed, lackadaisical assistant. Their contrasting soprano and bass lines add comic villainy to proceedings. Both of the two cocksure male leads give equally strong vocal performances, the tenderness and emotion in Ferrando’s (Behle) well-rounded tone counterbalanced by the playfulness of Guglielmo (Arduini). As the two with the most stage time, Dorabella (Brower) and Fiordiligi (Winters) have the most daunting of vocal tasks. There is an irony present in the fact they are called on to carry the opera despite, as female characters, having their status diminished by the narrative. But carry it they do, with Fiordiligi’s (Winters) mastery of melisma and technical delivery being particularly noteworthy. This is a young cast, but one that carries the mantle of Mozart’s great work without strain.
By the end of this three-hour circus, the final reveal is given. The chagrined and despondent lovers sit on four chairs whilst the conjurer gleefully trots around them. These last few minutes feel the most real, the most impactful. Gone are the bells and whistles, and the scene with the lowest production values finally hints at the underlying questions the rest of the opera has skirted over. A technically sound and visually pleasing opera, Gloger’s Cosi fan tutte places too much emphasis on the light-hearted and as such misses the opportunity to dig deeper past the superficial comedy Mozart and Da Ponte are renowned for engineering.
Cosi fan tutte is on until 19th October 2016 at the ROH. Click here for more details.