Frivolity over a dark score
MOZART'S comic opera Cosi Fan Tutte (literally – so all women behave) with its artificial and scandalous storyline is one of his most effervescent and witty scores. The entire plot can be summed up in the familiar aria, La Donna è Mobile (Women are Fickle) from Verdi's Rigoletto.
Transporting the action, originally set in Naples, to a British (probably Welsh) seaside resort in the early Sixties works extremely well. Producer Benjamin Davis and designer Max Jones have created an end of the pier atmosphere complete with Italian ice-cream parlour, deckchairs and Punch and Judy tent by some clever staging.
The principal characters match the period – the shifty Don Alfonso, who bets that the fiancees of the two sailors Guglielmo and Ferrando will not remain faithful if they are tested after the two men have pretended to go away to war. In the test, the men return thinly disguised as distinctly sleazy holiday camp red-coats. Baritone Gary Griffiths makes a suitably boastful Guglielmo while tenor Andrew Tortise's Ferrando is a more diffident, lighter character. For the girls, Fiordiligi, Guglielmo's fiancee, is the quieter one, whereas her sister Dorabella is very much the drama queen.
The superficial frivolity of the text and Mozart's matching delicate score conceal a darker and more misogynistic sub-text. Egged on by the worldly and cynical maid Despina, the girls fail the test and eventually succumb to each other's fiancee.
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The first act is narrative-rich and the musical lines tended to become subservient to all the business on stage. In Act II, the music fills out and Fiordiligi (Elizabeth Watts) has the one distinctive and difficult aria in which she prays for forgiveness for her infidelity.
The final scene, after the new couples have undergone a pretend marriage ceremony, the men eventually reveal themselves. Is it a happy ending? The stormy music and the downpour of rain that descends upon the crowd suggests perhaps not.