Mozart's 'Così fan tutte',
heard by MIKE WHEELER
The set for Opera North's Così fan tutte (Theatre Royal, Nottingham, UK, 3 November 2009) is a giant observation chamber, with an appropriately-scaled lens facing the audience, which Geoffrey Dolton's Don Alfonso surveys with evident self-satisfaction during the overture. The front panel rises to show us his experiment in human behaviour, which he conducts throughout with the same slightly creepy smugness. His knowing glance at the audience as the curtain falls at the end of Act 1 speaks volumes.
The two sisters are nicely differentiated. Victoria Simmonds' warm-voiced Dorabella is readier to slip into a more easy-going frame of mind. Her Act 2 duet with Quirijn De Lang's rich-toned Guglielmo becomes a touching 'will-they-won't-they' moment. Elizabeth Atherton's Fiordiligi is all imperious drama-queen in 'Come scoglio', but projects her inner conflicts in Act 2 to moving effect, making 'Per pietà' a real vehicle for wavering emotions as she gradually succumbs to Allan Clayton's ardent, fresh-voiced Ferrando. The production is actually sung in an (uncredited) English translation which, with the cast's excellent diction, is easy to follow.
Amy Freston's brisk been-there-done-that-seen-it-all-before Despina is a joy, especially her two moments of play-acting in the respective finales, though her voice doesn't always carry well from the back of the stage. Her appalled realisation at the end that she has been party to a cruel charade is particularly effective.
Tobias Hoheisel's designs work beautifully, particularly the costumes for the two sisters, as they gradually change from formal silver-grey (matching the officers' uniforms) to something more casual and colourful, toning in with the officers' disguises. David Finn has created some wonderfully subtle lighting, notably the faint pink flush as the disguised lovers first enter. Tim Albery's production and Justin Doyle's conducting strike just the right balance between comic sparkle and the darker currents.
For the record, this production restores the lovers to their original partners at the end, and as the front of the chamber finally falls, they find themselves on the outside and in the real world for the first time.
Copyright © 4 December 2009