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Cosi Fan Tutte review at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh – ‘compelling’

A scene from Cosi Fan Tutte at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh. Photo: Festival d'Aix en Provence A scene from Cosi Fan Tutte at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh. Photo: Pascal Victor/Festival d'Aix en Provence
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Sublime musicianship collides with a staging that is about as close to the bone as you can get in this compelling, heart-rending take on Cosi Fan Tutte, by director Christopher Honore at the Edinburgh International Festival.

Honore’s setting for the tale of soldiers Ferrando (Joel Prieto) and Guglielmo (Nahuel di Piero) – who test their fiancees’ fidelity by pretending to be foreigners and seducing each other’s intended – is Eritrea in the late 1930s, under Mussolini’s racial discrimination policies. In this violent cauldron, as the overture plays with precision and passion, Guglielmo conducts the cavalier rape of a local girl. He rapes her again, with the same casual disregard, in the second act, as he sings with an increasing sense of entitlement at being wronged by his fiancee, Fiordiligi (Lenneke Ruiten). All this fresh from having forced himself – with an equal sense of disdain – on Dorabella (Kate Lindsey).

A scene from Cosi Fan Tutte at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh. Photo: Pascal Victor/Festival d'Aix en Provence
A scene from Cosi Fan Tutte at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh. Photo: Pascal Victor/Festival d’Aix en Provence

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has, this year, examined the nature of gender like never before, and put patriarchy under intense scrutiny. In this Cosi, the EIF ups the game, bringing the power relationship that goes hand in leather-gloved fist between racism and sexism into focus by probing male entitlement, abuse and the normalisation of brutality and violent grooming.

All this is set to a lucid rendition of the music, under conductor Jeremie Rhorer and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. The singing from the principal cast is astounding, but it is the acting – and that of the 12-strong company – that is most frighteningly vivid. There is certainly a discussion to be had over the way race is used here, but the overall result cuts right to the heart of Da Ponte’s libretto.

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Verdict
Brutal, challenging production that uses a sublime account of Mozart's music to hammer home its point
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