Così fan tutte at Royal Opera House online
The late Jonathan Miller’s 1995 production of Così fan tutte has been revived time and again, so it’s perhaps not too surprising that the Royal Opera House has selected this 2010 recording to be streamed on YouTube as part of their Our House to Your House series during the Coronavirus outbreak. With excellent orchestration under music director Thomas Hengelbrock and some powerful performances, the piece is a joy to listen to, although it has a few weak links and a generally dull atmosphere thanks to a somewhat lifeless stage design.
It’s certainly an interesting interpretation, to say the least. In an opera with a plot which is ridiculous and exceedingly old-fashioned, staging a minimalistic show with few props and relatively harmless outfits (aside from Ferrando and Guglielmo’s disguises) is a good way to avoid too many distractions – often a problem in contemporary opera productions. Here, however, it seems to go too far in its minimalism: the stage is, at times, so empty, and the directing so lacklustre, that it seems to drain all life from the work and draw attention to the already questionable storyline. On the plus side, it does give the music room to stand out.
And stand out it does, for the most part. Hengelbrock’s directing of the orchestra of the ROH is beautifully subtle and clear, with a take on Mozart’s music which feels just right (if, sometimes, ever so slightly heavy-handed). The cast, too, is largely powerful, with a domineering Rebecca Evans as Despina and Thomas Allen as Alfonso; their comedic timing is spot-on, and their voices are pristine and apt throughout. Stéphane Degout as Guglielmo, Maria Bengtsson as Fiordiligi and Jurgita Adamonytė as Dorabella are also perfectly capable and perform their roles in delightfully comical fashion. Pavol Breslik as Ferrando struggles slightly in the second act, but kudos to him for a strong rendition of Un’aura Amorosa.
It’s a bit of a pity that the production itself isn’t particularly engaging or interesting in any way, because this is an excellent rendition of Così fan tutte from a purely musical point of view. But considering that the staging is harmless enough not to distract from the music, that might not be the worst thing – as it is, it’s a perfectly enjoyable take on Mozart’s opera which is a sheer joy to listen to, and certainly worth a watch.
Photo: Mike Hoban