Opera24 have dealt with the potential awkwardness of Cosi Fan Tutte – about the supposedly universal unfaithfulness of women – by adapting and modernising it to the present day. Instead of two male officers we have ‘hotshot' bankers, plus their old friend, their fiancées (both ‘ladies of leisure') and the ladies' personal assistant. Instead of being allegedly called off to war, to test whether their fiancées will stay faithful to them, the men are allegedly transferred to Shanghai.
As part of the Grimeborn opera festival at the Arcola, this Cosi achieves its goal of pleasing audiences and presenting more informal, affordable opera. The ensemble's strong voices fill the intimate space, as do the seven-piece orchestra's music. But rather than creating a contemporary world for a classical opera – as OperaUpClose do at the King's Head – this production simply has contemporary characters, with contemporary costumes and props, and talented singers and musicians who do dominate but can't compensate for the overall lack of cohesion.
This adaptation of Cosi deflates the stakes, and therefore the comedy. In the original, it's possible the men might die whilst at war (or so their fiancées could think), but here, the couples simply would be long-distance for a time. As Guglielmo and Ferrando, respectively, Christopher Jacklin and Edward Saklatvala are not believable as stereotyped bankers; they don't carry themselves with brashness or brazenness, though they do come to life later as Californian skateboarder dudes in disguise.
The choices are unclear: why the Californian disguise, and why the ‘natural healer' to help ‘cure' them later on? Equally, the charismatic female leads, Dorabella (Sophie Yelland) and Fiordiligi (Louisa Tee), dress and act more like advertising/media types than ladies of leisure – more Shoreditch than South Ken. The modern analogies fail to form a dramatic or comedic whole, and in combination seem random.
Nonetheless, the production makes clear that these young women and men are interchangeable, and thus representative, and that perhaps the ‘fickleness of women' comes from the trickery of men. The libretto's standout lines include Dorabella and Fiordiligi's ‘I promise to Cupid / I will not be stupid' and Guglielmo's ‘The problem with a woman is she isn't like a man'.
Among the funnier parts are the men's first appearance in disguise – with tank tops, trainers and gratuitous thick, black moustaches – and Fiordiligi fending off her ‘suitor' by swatting at him with her clutch. It's an opera you'll enjoy not as a whole, but for the lovely singing and music and some genuinely comic moments.