Audiences for the performance of Così fan tutte might have been somewhat concerned that they had missed the show when the first scene shown was that of the curtain falling and actors in eighteenth-century garb bowing. However, this was just part of theatrical setting which informs this opera.
Mozart’s Così fan tutte focusses on two couples: Guglielmo and Fiordiligi, and Ferrando and Dorabella; and an older gentleman, Don Alfonso, who is friends with them. The two men in the relationships boast of their partners’ fidelity, yet Don Alfonso is unconvinced and believes that all women are unfaithful (hence, the translated title of the opera: ‘All Women Do It’). They place a wager that Don Alfonso can get Fiordiligi and Dorabella to be unfaithful if Guglielmo and Ferrando follow his instructions for the next day.
Angela Brower and Corinne Winters in Jan Philipp Gloger’s Così fan tutte © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Stephen Cummiskey
This production is a revival of the Olivier Award nominated production which originally ran in 2016-17. Directed by Jan Philipp Gloger, this production is a little more slimmed down than the previous production, but keeps the overarching theme of life as a stage. Gloger presents the events, which occur after the wager has been placed, when Guglielmo and Ferrando are under Don Alfonso’s control, as being ‘staged’. For example, Gloger shows the scenery for the garden walk being put up by ‘production assistants’ and has a scene where the Guglielmo and Ferrando change costumes. These moments, and a variety of others, create an opera within an opera. Although this is rather ingenious, it does tend to create a visual overload. The constant changes of scenery and costume, with the ‘helping hands’, coordinating on stage to make these changes, can result in the viewer being somewhat overwhelmed.
It is not merely in the staging that the opera is a little overwhelming: the music, and especially the conductor, Stefano Montanari, make it a rich experience. It is rare to keep one’s eyes on the conductor as much as the singers on the stage, but Stefano Montanari put on an utterly mesmerising display. Any conductor must, of course, lead the orchestra and control the tempo of the opera but Montanari, in addition to this, also plays the fortepiano. His trick is to conduct as one would usually do and then, when the fortepiano is called for, he whips the conducting baton into the back of his shirt samurai-style and proceeds to accompany the singers on the fortepiano. Montanari's rapid conducting and playing method helped create the right comic tone.
Production photo of Così fan tutte, The Royal Opera © 2019 ROH. Photograph by Stephen Cummiskey
Così fan tutte remains one of the lesser known operas of Mozart; The Magic Flute and the Marriage of Figaro are usually best known. However, this production shows why it deserves more recognition. The opera explores themes of love and fidelity, especially pertinent to our Tinder-obsessed generation, but more than that, it is a visual and musical masterpiece.
Edited by Evangeli