Cosi fan tutte, Grand Theatre, Leeds
Wednesday 13 October 2004
Tim Albery is lucky man. He is one of the most inventive and thoughtful opera directors around, as almost anyone who saw his splendid
Ring cycle for Scottish Opera will confirm.
Tim Albery is lucky man. He is one of the most inventive and thoughtful opera directors around, as almost anyone who saw his splendid Ring cycle for Scottish Opera will confirm. But, even so, it was generous of Opera North to let him have a second stab at Cosi fan tutte, which he first staged for them only seven years ago.
That production was deemed unsatisfactory by several critics - though not by me - and has not been seen since. The new one is less blatantly radical, and will probably, therefore, command wider acceptance.
It has some rather conventional touches, but, overall, it is a deeply satisfying staging of the most modern, ambivalent and psychologically probing of the Mozart-Da Ponte operas.
Our involvement was hugely helped by the fact that the opera was sung in English, and in a witty and fluent translation - presumably the one used last time by Ruth and Thomas Martin, although it is not credited in the programme.
And diction was generally excellent. This, even more than Figaro and Don Giovanni, is an opera of ensembles rather than arias, and the ensemble singing was superb, balanced and integrated. The conductor, Yves Abel, making a welcome return, directed a crisp but sensitive performance.
The orchestra was on top form, and there was an admirable balance between pit and stage. There was some modest, not excessive, decoration of the vocal line.
Among the singers, Malin Bystrom, last year's Manon, was an outstanding Fiordiligi. Ann Taylor's sound was a little lacking in flexibility as Dorabella. Iain Paton and Roderick Williams as their lovers were both admirable. Claire Wild as Despina was stylish, if relatively conventional. Peter Savidge was a brilliantly convincing Don Alfonso.
At the start, the stage is dominated by a vast wooden box-camera obscura.
When its front lifts off, we discover the two sisters living inside it. Perched on a ladder, Don Alfonso, master of this contraption, can observe through a spy hole.
Tobias Hoheisel, the designer, has produced a plain 18th-century interior and simple costumes to match. No attempt is made at a literal and detailed period representation. Only Don Alfonso remains firmly in the 18th century. Sliding doors are used effectively, with the doorways forming picture frames when appropriate.
The ending was, as it should be, full of uncertainty and unease. Don Alfonso is visibly appalled at the devastation his light-hearted wager has produced. Despina is ashamed and angry; the lovers are confused, distressed.
Nothing in relations between these men and women can ever be the same again.
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