This is the story of two men who are persuaded to make a wager with a philosopher friend. He claims that their fiancées are like all women – fickle and untrustworthy. In a bid to prove him wrong, they pretend to go to war but return in disguise to woo the women. After much protestation, the women succumb to their charms. Having lost the bet, the men return as themselves, catching out the women in their cheating but marrying them anyway.
Aside from the patronising subject matter, this is actually an excellent evening’s entertainment. It is predominantly light-hearted and contains some subtle and some not so subtle comedy moments.
With a cast of six, this is one of Mozart’s most intimate operas. That intimacy is emphasised by the closed feel of the set designed by Tobias Hoheisel. In a monochromatic box supposed to be the inside of a camera obscura, with lenses as windows, the characters are splashes of colour and movement, trapped within their own world.
Elizabeth Atherton as Fiordiligi and Victoria Simmonds as Dorabella portray the two sisters led astray by their deceptive lovers. Both take their characters through the highs and lows of emotion very well. However for sheer comedy and verve they are outshone by Amy Freston as ladies maid Despina.
Geoffrey Dolton as philosopher Don Alfonso is suitably mature and conniving, leading the action by the promise of money. His two willing conspirators Guglielmo (Quirijn De Lang) and Ferrando (Allan Clayton) are suitably gullible as Don Alfonso persuades them to woo their lovers in the disguise of foreigners.
Mozart's score soars through the entire opera, but the English libretto at times seems strained to fit the music and rhythm. However Opera North's decision to sing the opera in English does make for an easier evening and means that the audience can watch the nuances of the direction rather than having to read screens to keep up to date with what happens.
For those who are not fans or are novices to opera, this production is more accessible, which can only be a good thing. Bravo Opera North!