Review: WNO - CosÃ¬ Fan Tutte @ Bristol Hippodrome
After the powerful and deadly serious production of Jephtha, the next evening in Bristol would be starkly different.
I was to see Mozart's CosÃ¬ fan tutte.
I have seen all of his famous other operas, these being The Magic Flute, The Marriage Of Figaro and Don Giovanni. CosÃ¬
was on the list and I am pleased to say I have finally seen it. All of these productions were with Welsh Nation Opera (WNO), I might add.
This staging was given a 1950s seaside setting. Somewhere like Brighton or Tenby. It had a retro charm that was hard to resist. As the overture played we were joined on stage by dog walkers, who used fake dogs (Possibly Shih Tzu). The walkers pretended that the dog were irate around each other and made it appear they rushed them off the stage. The audience laughed and this was the start to a silly yet enjoyable evening.
Many quirks were used in the production. In the ice cream parlour, which goes back and forth on the stage, it has a picture of Botticelli's famous portrayal of Venus. Only in this she is holding a giant ice cream cone. A lady, who I think was part of the chorus, is seen in an almost sumo-like suit to give her the appearance of being on the larger size. She is seen sunbathing on a deck chair. They could have used the gag of her chair breaking, such is her weight. A Punch & Judy puppeteer is seen around as well as a gentleman in a crocodile suit. Much praise for the latter as he remained a humorous part of the opera and almost stole the show.
Through all the fun, what did cross my mind several times throughout the evening was, 'Is the opera sexist?' I should point out that the full title is CosÃ¬ Fan Tutte, Ossia La Scuola Degli Amanti (Thus Do They All, Or The School For Lovers, the only Mozart opera to have an alternative title). Should a man be able to trust his lover? The same for a woman? Through this, the story is reminiscent of a Shakespeare play in which mistaken identity and betrayal are abound.
We see the soldiers Fernando and Guglielmo put their partners, the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella to the test, in a bet with Don Alfonso. They pretend to be off to fight, only to return to them incognito as two rowdy and promiscuous cads. If the sisters give in then they have proven that they cannot be trusted and the bet is lost. In a stroke of genius for the story, both girls fall for the opposite sister's partner. What follows is a complicated and hilarious series of events. You forget who is who and the ending is not as happy as expected in a comedy.
The male due of Andrew Tortise and Gary Griffiths as the testers of their lovers, were up to the challenge musically and in their comic timing also. The sisters played by Elizabeth Watts and MÃ¡rie Flavin (who replaced Cora Burggraaf as Dorabella) we're delightful as a pair who seemed to fall to easy in the arms of other men, even if they were resistant for a brief time at the start.
The show was in fact stolen by Despina played by Joanne Boag, a Scottish-born soprano I had seen before in a production or two. In fact I will be as bold to say I did not recognise her because it appears she has lost some weight. Of course I don't want to snipe about her. She was lovely in this and had a good sense of humour. Her selection of disguises were funny in their own right as she certainly had the most costume changes. In one scene above the ice cream parlour, behind a poster similar to a Vettriano painting telling a stranger to back off a husband's wife, we see her cleaning a toilet and singing about how the ladies should meet the, "Strangers again". As she does this she flicked the toilet brush out of the bowl, which sprayed one of the ladies with toilet water, much to her horror. She rushed to grab a towel, rubbing her cheek frantically and the audience roared with laughter. Undoubtedly the funniest moment in the whole production.
The costumes as well had a certain chic. But I can't stand bright red tweed suits, which was worn by Don Alfonso, played by Steven Page (replacing Neal Davies). He was made to look about ten or twenty years older, from looking at his profile photograph printed within the programme. But it was the disguise costumes that were splendid. They dressed up in cricket jumpers and shorts, with their legs on full display. They were given large prosthetic noses, which helped change their facial features. The two singers seemed to have a really good time as their alter egos. The audience joined in with their aplomb.
This being a Mozart opera, it went over three hours. My bum went numb in the huge second act and I didn't want to fidget much. But by the time we get to the end and realise the ladies actions have caused great consequences. As their partners 'arrived' back we see the ladies with forced smiles and pretending all is fine. I found this very funny, as the music stopped for a brief time and we could focus on their faces. It's that looks someone gives when they know they have done something wrong and they don't want you to know. The smile is a bit forced and it gives the person off a mile away...
If you don't mind a long evening then you are in for a treat. I'm sure another rival of this will be around again within a couple of years. It was cheery and delightful evening. A treat and a test for lovers of all kinds...
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