Cosi fan tutte at Wales Millenium Centre

Jayne Hecate reviews Cosi fan tutte. 

This is not the first time that I have been lucky enough to attend a performance by the Welsh National Opera and I am glad that I was able to see another of their fabulous performances. On this occasion, I was able to take my daughter to her first opera experience and then during the interval we had brief discussion of the themes of the show. Now, given that my daughter is in her mid twenties and a complete opera novice, she was the perfect person to ask about the relevance of the show to a younger women in this modern age.

Cosi fan tutte was composed in 1789, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with the text (or Libretto, to use the proper term.) of the story written by Lorenzo da Porte. The title is translated as ‘All women are like that’ and according to the first paragraph of the program produced by the WNO for this opera, it quickly dropped out of production for over one hundred years, due to polite society of the time finding it to be vulgar and a little distasteful. However, we as modern and more robust opera attendees can consider that to be a part of the history of the piece, but what was the actual show like?

As you would expect from the Welsh National Opera, it was mesmerising, to use the words of my daughter. The premise of the opera is fairly simple and over two acts sets out the following. Two student friends, have a bet with their tutor about the longevity of their relationships with two young sisters. The tutor sets out to prove that women are dishonest in love and quick to cheat during relationships with men. Guglielmo (performed by James Atkinson) and Ferrando (performed by Egor Zhuravskii) agree to the terms of the bet with Don Alfonso (powerfully performed this afternoon by Jose Fardilha), with his aim being to teach the boys that women are fickle and have loose morals. Don Alfonso instructs the boys to set up the trap for the two girls, while he goes to see them both as they study, to explain that the loves of their lives are about to ship off to fight in a war and they are leaving immediately. The two girls, Fiordiligi (performed beautifully by Sophie Bevan) and Dorabella (performed equally wonderfully by Kayleigh Decker) are besides themselves with grief and inform Don Alfonso that they will remain faithful to their loves no matter what, while the two boys are away at war.

The gleeful Don Alfonso then plots with the school mistress, Despina (performed fabulously by Rebecca Evans), to make the girls fall in love with two Albanian rogues, who are actually the two boys in disguise.

One has to say that the Welsh National opera really do know how to put on a truly memorable performance. The cast of this piece were all marvellous, with the true highlights of the show being Sophie Bevan and Kayleigh Decker. Also worthy of mention was the hilarious Rebecca Evans whose voice was able to perform some remarkable vocal gymnastics as she played out the roles of Despina in her plot with the Don.

The set design was rather cheeky in decoration and the stage was built into the recreation of a school environment, with a classroom full of rather unsubtle and vaguely rude biological diagrams of fruits, flowers and human reproductive organs, all of which were in balance with the bawdy nature of the story. I will also add though that seeing a woman of small stature, singing beautifully and earnestly about being in love and having her heart broken, while directly above her head was hung a seven foot penis and testis did rather detract from the gravitas of her declarations! Through out the show there were several other cheeky jokes about nudity and sexual relations and it is up to the viewer as to whether these are appropriate for younger children.

The music was as always with the WNO, perfect. The auditorium in Cardiff has truly remarkable properties and the sound levels are wonderful, giving the viewer the perfect experience every time. We were sat roughly in the middle of floor seating and both sound and views were fabulous. As far as musical productions, there are many that can learn a thing or three from the WNO about presentation of live music. I would happily spend hours in that auditorium, but I would need a cushion because those seats get a bit hard after ninety minutes of sitting still.

After the show, I asked my daughter if she enjoyed her first opera and other than her concerns about the thematic context, she did enjoy this performance and I will no doubt have a companion should I be lucky enough to see more shows. However, she was firm in her view that there needs to be a greater discussion of the darker aspects portrayed in operas such as this. Opera needs to be embraced by the next generation if it is to survive for another two hundred years. It is not hard to enjoy opera, no matter what your usual music preference, but at the same time, modern opera needs to evolve in order for it to be embraced by the young people it wants to attract. I have seen a couple of modern operas performed by the Welsh National Opera, all of which were beautiful and memorable. The premise of this particular opera is by nature misogynistic. In the modern age, perhaps we should be calling out such productions that stick faithfully to older texts that have such dark elements sold as humour, especially when other companies can rework the same piece so that it speaks to a more modern audience. An example of this was the work done last year by the Irish National Opera, who reworked the text of Cosi Fan Tutti, removing some of the more problematic ideological issues that at this moment still miss the modern zeitgeist. 

Mozart was rude and cheeky in life and remains problematic two hundred years or so after his death. It is the choice of each opera house to decide how they perform such operas and the feet of the audience will tell them if they get it right. I truly hope that the WNO are right with this production and I hope that they instead create discussion about such themes when used in opera. However, even though this show was performed beautifully, the young person with me and even me to some extent still has reservations about bringing such ‘old classics’ back to the stage in their original text.

Cosi fan tutte is on tour until Friday 10 May.

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