Jan Philipp Gloger’s production from 2019 starts not at the beginning of the show but rather at the end with a curtain call for a traditional period-piece – perhaps Così – being played out during the overture, after which the four young lovers emerge from the audience into a world of theatrical fantasy orchestrated by Don Alfonso (Johannes Martin Kränzle), who proceeds to put the two young couples – Ferrando (Daniel Behle) and Dorabella (Angela Brower), and Guglielmo (Alessio Arduini) and Fiordiligi (Corinne Winters) – through their respective paces with the assistance of an oft-disguised Despina (Sabina Puértolas).
With an emphasis on the artificiality of the plot and the need for strong theatrics to pull it off, we are taken on a time-travelling whistle-stop tour of sets that include a theatrical foyer, a Brief Encounters-style railway station, a cocktail bar, the garden of Eden, and backstage scenes, as the boys attempt to woo each other’s other half. Cosi fan Tutte – ‘all women are like that’ – is the challenge set down. The question is though: are they?
It is with some relief that we pause on occasion to enjoy some wonderful singing from the well-matched cast, four of whom make their ROH debut. In what is essentially an ensemble piece, there are some delightful individual performances as well: Ferrando’s ‘Un’aura amorosa’ is beautifully sung by Behle whilst Winters perfectly captures Fiordiligi’s troubled air with ‘Per Pieta’. Brower provides a cheerful and well-sung Dorabella, equalled by Arduini’s brooding Guglielmo. Puértolas delights in her energetic and ever-changing roles as Despina to move the deception along, but it is Kränzle’s Don Alfonso around whom everything revolves, and he does not disappoint with a first-class performance.
Conductor Semyon Bychkov’s reputation is for the heavyweight composers and so whilst the orchestra maintain texture and balance throughout, it is too often laboured, which means we lose some of the natural wit and sparkle one comes to expect of this piece, as well as resulting in an extended running time.
Whilst the ironic rich extravagance of Ben Baur’s ever-changing set design, exquisitely lit throughout by Bernd Purkrabek, is not lost on me, the overall production feels too clever for its own good – at least one scene too far – and as a result the plot unravels and it becomes more of a commentary on the foibles of love as our four young lovers appear to be too much in on the act as we progress. Conversely, In accepting the spirit of Gloger’s intentions, then perhaps more could have been made of Despina: I was half-expecting her to burst singing out of a cake which would have certainly put the icing on this surrealistic observation of the human condition. As it is, I will settle for the equally sweet singing from its young cast that make this production, with Mozart’s clever balance of comedy and seriousness, such a delight to revel in. https://www.roh.org.uk/tickets-and-events
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 7th October 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★