Director Adele Thomas’ grandfather was a film projectionist in the 1930s, she tells us, and her formative years were spent watching the silent comedies of the likes of Buster Keaton, Clara Bow, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin.
Thus it is the optimistic, cocktail-fuelled America of the 1920s as portrayed in these old movies that provides the background to her staging of Mozart’s comedy; and it’s good to see a production where the audience remains so positively engaged and laughing at the jokes. The chorus-line of partygoers with their perennial Charlestons and balloons may be a little too omnipresent, but Hannah Clark’s flapper-period designs are stylish and fun.
In the opera, the older, wiser Don Alfonso gives his young friends a hard lesson in the mutability of our feelings in a way that some have read as misogynistic; but Thomas’s approach stresses that the joke is on everyone, the entire cast working hard to demonstrate the sheer ridiculousness of our behaviour as we trust in the constancy of the human heart, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Dramatically and vocally the performances are solid, led by Alexandra Lowe’s virtuosic Fiordiligi alongside Katie Coventry’s volatile Dorabella, variously partnered by Nick Pritchard’s fluently lyrical Ferrando and Martin Hassler’s over-excitable Guglielmo. At the epicentre of the intrigue are Carolina Lippo’s hard-bitten Despina and John Molloy’s lounge-lizard old professor Don Alfonso.
Nicholas Chalmers conducts the impressive Royal Northern Sinfonia in the pit, highlighting the detail of Mozart’s score while generating vocal excellence on the stage – though a few more decorations would not go amiss.