Struggling to stay true to the magic of Mozart
Bavarian State Opera, Cosi Fan Tutte
Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, Feb 23
There is no satisfactory English translation for the Italian title of Mozart's opera Cosi Fan Tutte, which literally means 'Thus do all women'.
Two young officers, Guglielmo and Ferrando, are engaged to sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella. Don Alfonso, an elderly cynic, hears them boasting of their fiancees' fidelity. He wagers that the women are really fickle ('like all women') and can be made to fall in love with someone else within one day. Taking the bet, the men pretend to go away to war, then present themselves to each other's fiancees in disguise and set about seducing them with the aid of Don Alfonso and the sisters' maid Despina. Only after the girls have signed marriage contracts with their new lovers do the men reveal their true identities. Having won his bet, the pragmatic Don Alfonso persuades the couples to reconcile in an ending more ambiguous than happy.
The beauty of Mozart's music has ensured the opera's enduring popularity, yet its depth of emotion works against the farcical plot - the characters' heartfelt singing makes their ludicrous behaviour even more implausible.
Overcoming these problems calls for production and performances of exceptional comic brilliance and the Bavarian State Opera's version succeeds only partially. Director Dieter Dorn has taken a straightforward approach that treats the whole affair as pure comedy. This works well enough but fails to bring any new insights. Neither the production nor the performances of Miah Persson (Fiordiligi) and Tara Erraught (Dorabella) make the contradictions in the sisters' conduct believable.
There remained much to enjoy. Laura Tatulescu stole the show with a witty and superbly musical Despina. Levente Molnar's gift for physical comedy and fine, full-timbred baritone made him an ideal Guglielmo Veteran Thomas Allen, one of the great singer-actors of the past 30 years, made much of Don Alfonso.
The Bavarian State Orchestra gave a fine rendition of the score under the capable baton of Mark Wigglesworth.