Cosi fan tutte is not my favourite of Mozart, but seasons are what they are and it is probably the opera I’ve seen the most in my little time as an opera addict. The first version I saw was a boring version at Palais Garnier, in front of which I almost fell asleep. Then Genovese, from the Comédie Française, staged a classical but poetic version at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Nothing brilliant, but those versions were just enough to have the music and the arias in mind.
It actually was my first time at ENO, excluding Porgy and Bess at the Coliseum by a South African opera and I had learned only a few days before the show that the lyrics were translated in English. I’ve always found it fun to read about opera in the 19th century where the public would see Tannhäuser in French or English. In the end, with an appropriate staging, I find this habit to be particularly pleasing.
Obviously it does lose the musicality of Italian, and voices change according to the language. An Italian bass has little to do with an English bass, and Don Alfonso loses some of its natural vocal authority, thankfully compensated by his acting. As we move on in the show, I stop thinking about the differences and simply begin to enjoy what is a particularly entertaining show – nothing like I could have expected from Cosi. Of course, we lose the ‘serious’ aspect of the opera, regarding nostalgia and humankind, only to gain pure entertainment.
Cosi is moved by Phelim McDermott from Italy to 1950 Playland and a nearby motel where two officers came with their fiancées. Despina is a motel maid and Alfonso a man met in a bar late at night. The revolving walls, the sets coming down on the stage and the energy of the cast put this Cosi as an equal to great West End shows. All over the stage is a newer form of comedia dell’arte. It is no longer only Despina, the sneaky maid, but also the bearded woman, the dwarves, the acrobats and the clowns that frame the action.
The cast is led by Kate Valentine, a strong Fiordiligi who manages to keep some emotions on the stage while Christine Rice, as Dorabella, enjoys herself. Sadly though, Despina is not as funny as I remembered her to be. The scenes of the doctor and the lawyer seemed to have been cut off a bit. From main character, she drops to a lesser role. Nevertheless, Mary Bevan does a very good job as the intriguing and seductive maid, doubled with a very sweet voice. The two lovers, Guglielmo and Ferrando, seem a bit behind, but form a nice trio with Roderick Williams as Alfonso.
Overall a very nice show to conclude the ENO season and put opera on a very light touch as summer is starting.