Così fan tutte at the Royal Opera House
Mozart needs no introductions and his comic opera Così fan tutte is firmly placed among the greatest of its kind. Jan Philipp Gloger’s production, revived by Julia Burbach, expands the theme of deceit between lovers and friends to deceit as an inherent part of many a pleasure, including performance itself. Throughout the two-act opera, the audience is reminded at regular intervals, in Brechtian style, of the artifice involved in making the show. There are times when the stage is literally deconstructed piece by piece as a character sings, revealing sets and props previously used, and cast members resting backstage.
The very action begins with the four main characters, modernly attired, sitting in the audience warmly applauding the bowing cast of a period dress production of Così fan tutte. The characters of the two groups mix, introducing a fusion of old and modern that lasts throughout. From 18th-century inspired settings to a stylish cocktail bar, the director’s vision highlights the timelessness of the piece while also suggesting that time and place do not matter so much, as the protagonist is human nature itself, in all its tragicomedy. In the final scenes, a row of theatre spectators appears on stage, smartly dressed with programme in hand, mirroring the audience and then blending into the performance, a final reminder to let go of fixed boundaries.
The story is that of two young men, Guglielmo and Ferrando, who are challenged by their friend Don Alfonso when he hears them praise their respective lovers, the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, for their unwavering loyalty. Don Alfonso sustains that all women are naturally predisposed to infidelity, and proposes a bet that he can drive the girls to cheat within 24 hours. The men agree, and pretend that they are called for battle to see how the ladies behave in their absence. They immediately return disguised as foreigners and, swapping love interests, attempt to seduce the unsuspecting ladies. Don Alfonso’s friend Despina aids him in his plan by encouraging the sisters to enjoy love for love’s sake, regardless of who the lover may be.
While some details are far-fetched, the grandeur of the opera and its overall impact make all illogicalities pale into insignificance. The unique mélange of styles does not always work, but it creates an interesting dimension. Some passages, including the ending, are not so dynamic but ultimately, Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte’s masterpiece can be relied upon to impress, excite and amuse, hardly showing its age at all. Furthermore, the extraordinary voices of the performers ensure that the opera shines bright from beginning to end.
Photo: Stephen Cummiskey
Così fan tutte is at the Royal Opera House from 25th February until 16th March 2019. Book your tickets here.
Watch the trailer for Così fan tutte here: