Cosi Fan Tutte
Opening the Garsington season, which this year offers four major works in the repertoire, not the usual three, is John Fulljames’ new production of Mozart’s ambiguous Cosi Fan Tutte, conducted by the festival’s artistic director, Douglas Boyd.
Associate director of the Royal Opera, Fulljames here presents a standard repertoire piece rather than one of the contemporary or left-field scores he regularly stages. The evening is never less than interesting, and packed with ideas - though there’s a danger that not all of them will register unless you’re in the fortunate position of knowing the opera well.
The backdrop to the staging is a wedding party, initially wearing fancy 18th-century costumes in Dick Bird’s designs, which is otherwise modern dress (1960s, someone suggested). It’s an obtrusive device, however, that gets in the way of the narrative, especially as tweaked by the director.
There’s a danger, too, that some of the opera’s essential humour gets lost along the way – a general problem with contemporary stagings of Cosi, which regularly become too serious. Yet ironically, one or two of the visual jokes here are actually a bit crass.
The leads are variable. Romanian soprano Andreea Soare is a largely effective Fiordiligi, though she has no trill. Kathryn Rudge’s firmly sung Dorabella seems permanently angry. The gentle tenor of Robin Tritschler’s Ferrando sounds delightful in his aria Un aura amorosa, but his tone doesn’t cut through in the ensembles. Ashley Riches is a splendid Guglielmo. Returning to the operatic stage after some years’ absence, Lesley Garrett’s wedding-planner Despina has a mottled tone these days, though she certainly knows her stage business. Neal Davies makes a first-rate Don Alfonso – cynicism, misogyny and all.
Boyd conducts with considerable insight into Mozart’s style and content, and the Garsington Opera Orchestra is consistently keen and alert.