YOU wouldn’t want to take “Così fan Tuttle” too seriously and this has always been my problem with this Mozart opera, whose plot really is a load of twaddle.
“Absurd?” Opera Australia counters, “Yes, but Mozart’s luminous music takes the absurd and makes it sublime.”
This is quite true, but you can’t close your eyes for three and a quarter hours just to listen to the music, and both director David McVicar and set & costume designer Moritz Junge work mightily to make this new production both beautiful and convincing, setting what they call “this most troubling and ambiguous of operatic comedies” just before the chaos and decay of WWI.
Small matter that opera historians have attempted to place it within the great dramatic traditions of Ariosto and Shakespeare, with disguised identities and love tests, it still never stacks up in terms of logic with plot predicated on the equally sexists notions that all women are unfaithful (hence the title, meaning “Thus do all [women]”) and men are so dull as to be interchangeable.
Strangely enough, the more convincing the human motivations are made, as in this superb production for OA by McVicar, the more insane and unconvincing its plot seems.
For those not in the know, in the manner of “Cymbeline” a pair of soldiers are enticed by an idle and Machiavellian philosopher to test the fidelity of their airheaded fiancées by dressing up as exotic Albanians and seducing them. The apparently parentless girls and their worldly maid Despina fall for it.
It’s over the top, any idiot would recognised who they are, but somehow Mozart and his famous librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, set up a conspiracy between the characters and the audience to suspend disbelief.
In this production much is made of the youth and immaturity of the two pretty girls Fiordiligi (Nicole Car) and the flighty Dorabella (Anna Dowsley), and of the gullibility of the officers Guglielmo (Andrew Jones) and Ferrando (David Portillo ) who fall into the trap of Don Alfonso, who is determined to prove that women are a worthless lot.
Thanks to the racy and worldly-wise Despina, played as an ‘older woman’ with clever eccentricity by a nearly unrecognisable Taryn Fiebig, the equally sexist perspective that men are useless and interchangeable comes through loud and clear.
McVicar keeps the characters physically on the move so fast in this production that you hardly have time to think. In Act II he allows his characters some emotional development, so that, especially in a standout performance by Nicole Car, (who also bought the house down in Act I with “Come scoglio immoto resta’) , the characters experience heartbreak and pain. As well, Richard Anderson rounds out the character of the cynical Don Alfonso to bring the opera to a conclusion of sorts.
The production looks simply splendid, with the beautiful three-dimensional set conjuring up the space and luxury of a seaside villa in Naples.
With the ensembles and offstage vocalist firmly controlled by conductor Jonathan Darlington, who handles pauses and silences with unparalleled sophistication, the opera reached heights of loveliness that belied its ridiculousness—close you eyes and you hear some of the most beautiful ensemble music ever written.
And the audience loved it!
This production completes Mcvicar’s triptych of so-called ‘Da Ponte operas’ operas for OA, following The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. Long may they all remain in the repertoire.