Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte is an ideal opera to be performed in today’s climate. A small leading cast, and a relatively light-hearted plot, Scottish Opera’s production, directed by Roxana Haines with musical direction by Stuart Stratford, brings the comedy into the modern world in a socially distanced performance exploiting the world of reality TV.
The piece opens with exuberant music played by a masked orchestra behind screens, as the Chorus sit in the theatre’s boxes, making up the various audience members of the reality show which our couples find themselves competing in. The Chorus revel in their roles throughout the piece, creating some excellent emotional reactions from wistfulness, to excitement, to boredom, creating a real sense of a live studio audience to the television show we are watching on our screens, making the streamed performance seem natural.
Don Alfonso (Michael Mofidian), the host of the show, arrives in a fabulous patterned jacket and prepares Ferrando (Shengzhi Ren) and Guglielmo (Arthur Bruce) for their appearance on the show during which they can win a suitcase full of money if they can prove their lovers Dorabella (Margo Arsane) and Fiordiligi (Charlie Drummond) are faithful.
Performed in the original Italian with English subtitles, Ferrando and Guglielmo are confident that they can prove that Dorabella and Fiordiligi are completely true to them, an assertion which the very funny Mofidian mocks as all women are disloyal. Ferrando and Guglielmo are determined though and begin making plans as to how they’ll spend the money after they have won. Mofidian brings a depth of darkness to the role, which makes him a truly deceitful but very amusing villain.
We then meet Dorabella and Fiordiligi, who are comparing their lovers and blissfully secure in their own happiness. Ironically referring to their own desires to be true to their lovers, the women are soon disturbed by the arrival of Don Alfonso who dramatically announces that Ferrando and Guglielmo have been called off to war. The heartbroken women beg to be killed as they say goodbye to their lovers who leave them dressed in modern fatigues to go to the battlefield.
Of course, this is all a ruse, and before long the men return in disguise and attempt to seduce each other’s lovers in a farcical and dangerous game testing faith and fidelity. The performances of Ren and Bruce in disguise are very funny and their entrance as the strangers is truly a laugh out loud moment.
Haines has cleverly staged the performance so that the performers keeping their distance does not look unnatural most of the time. Some elements of the piece have to utilise mime and exaggerated movement to compensate for the distance, but on the whole the spacing between the performers does not appear out of the ordinary.
Catriona Hewitson’s performance as Despina is hilarious, combining deadpan wit with effervescent glee over the trials and tribulations of her two mistresses.
Arsane’s melodramatic reaction to the departure of Ferrando is excellent and Drummond’s passionate anger is palpable. The two women are brilliantly developed and beautifully create both a sense of true love and being in love with the idea of being in love. This is emphasised by the red paper hearts and heart shaped jewellery scattered throughout the performance, emphasising the fragility of the reality television love story we are watching.
This is a clever performance which explores themes of the isolation we have all experienced this year and the role that the voyeurism of reality TV can play during times like these. Chaotic, cheerful and deceptively deep, Cosi fan Tutte is an interesting look at a world in miniature during a time when the world we are living in has gotten a little bit smaller.
Cosi fan Tutte is being streamed on the Scottish Opera website https://www.scottishopera.org.uk/shows/cosi-fan-tutte/
Reviewer: Donna M Day
Reviewed: 19th December 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★