The opera buffa Cosi Fan Tutte contains some of Mozart’s most glorious arias and orchestrations, but Da Ponte’s libretto, whose title translates as “all women are like that”, has frequently been accused of misogyny and double standards.
Director Adele Thomas, here making her opera debut for Northern Ireland Opera, chooses not to see it that way. Her fun-filled, Italian-sung production unfolds in 1920s America, handsomely captured by Hannah Clark’s art deco hotel set and inhabited by an assortment of stylish flappers and raffish consorts redolent of silent movie stars. The naivete and youthful idealism of two slightly gormless couples Ferrando (Sam Furness) and Dorabella (Heather Lowe), Guglielmo (Samuel Dale Johnson) and Fiordiligi (Kiandra Howarth) are held up for comparison with middle aged cynicism in the form of the housemaid Despina and the wordly Don Alfonso, played with suave sophistication by John Molloy.
In making merry with the plot’s false identities and partner swopping, Thomas opts for a fast-paced comedic approach, which, at times, reduces the sublime music to background sound. Belfast soprano Aoife Miskelly is an engaging Despina, showing impressive physicality and fine vocal precision in switching roles between boozy wench and Chaplinesque doctor and notary.
The performances of the star-struck lovers are at their most effective in reflective sections, where their vocal excellence is allowed to shine through unhindered. But the somewhat overworked slapstick cannot disguise the queasy moral conclusion that all women are faithless while men are at liberty to betray friends and sweethearts simply because they can.