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Cosi Fan Tutte review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘sparkling comedy’

Cosi Fan Tutte at the Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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One on level, Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Cosi Fan Tutte, his debut with Covent Garden, plays out in primary colours. Scene settings are customarily reimagined but at every turn there is a blurring of reality and fiction – right from the overture, during which a period-costumed Cosi cast is taking its curtain call. The ‘actual’ two couples are opera-goers from the auditorium, who stray on to the stage, so beginning an exploration of the churning gulf that lies between the real and the acted, the truth and the mask.

The Brief Encounter-like train platform, choking with limpet-like couples, where the friends Ferrando and Guglielmo take leave of their respective lovers; the smart bar lined with available men, where the girls greet their returning lovers (now in disguise, to test their faithfulness); and the two heavily staged garden scenes (one a plastic Eden complete with serpent and forbidden fruit, the other a breathtaking Baroque-naturalistic idyll applied to stage flats) – whether ‘real’ or ‘staged’, these settings are equally able to influence the characters’ feelings and behaviours.

While all this disorientation could prove nauseating, remarkably, it wraps around the solid comic core of the opera. This success is no doubt also down to a shining cast: Corinne Winters’s rich-toned Fiordiligi contrasts with Angela Brower’s lighter lyrical Dorabella; Daniel Behle fetchingly adopts gentle head-tone colouring in Un Aura Amorosa and Alessio Arduini is a virile Guglielmo. Sabina Puertolas exudes street-smart confidence as Despina and Johannes Martin Kranzle delights in his role as social architect. Semyon Byckow draws richly varied colours from the Royal Opera Orchestra, though occasionally favours slow tempos.

The deeper we go into Gloger’s exploration, the more the confusion seems to makes sense. The mildly unsettling conclusion to the question of what love is perhaps turns out to be that in reality (literally) we often don’t have a clue.

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Verdict
A compelling concept aligns with sparkling comedy in an endlessly revealing examination of love
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