Venue: Theatre Royal
Where: Newcastle upon Tyne
We live in a celebrity culture, where relationships are placed under the microscope for public scrutiny, so a camera lens and the microscope couldn’t be more apt in Opera North’s spectacular production of Cosi Fan Tutte.
Relationships in the opera are formed, broken and reformed for the dissection that ‘sections’ of society would find fascinating while studying the photo-shopped images in celebrity magazines, and this theme resonates in every moment of the opera.
As the light dims slightly in the audience, the character Don Alfonso walking briskly on stage and looking at the audience, actually he peers at you as though looking at a piece of subject matter; he studies and ponders - because the light’s are still on! You’re left feeling slightly vulnerable. When he has decided he understands his ‘subject’ enough, he leaves the stage with a wry smile and that the Overture begins.
As the action of the opera begins we are introduced to the two soldiers, Fernando and Guglielmo who argue with Alfonso after he has insulted the good name of the respective men’s loves, the sisters Fiordilgi and Dorabella. Women, Alfonso explains, are “all the same” and will place their affections with any man. So a bet is made that the women will place their affection with other loves as soon as the men are out of the ladies field of vision!
On the pretext of going off to fight in the war our soldiers leave, but return in disguise to woo the sisters. The deception is manipulated with the help of the sisters maid, Despina, and Alfonso. After much persuasion, the women finally succumb to the charms of the men in disguise, all seems lost and the bet is won by Alfonso. Although with all good comedy from an age of when Commedia Dell’ Arte was still popular, all is finally resolved and each partner is back with the one he truly loves.
What links the opera production and its social and cultural context to our own time is the age of enlightenment, where biology took centre stage in our understanding of the natural world. So this camera, who’s lens points directly at the audience, puts all of humanity under the microscope and analyses us as (the audience) as subjects. The story is played out in the internal working of the camera; the trucked set expands and shrinks to highlight action in the relationships as though we are focusing on minute details of action under a microscope, lit with cold greys and harsh steel blues, we see the action as though looking at a specimen in a laboratory.
The singing from the six cast members is faultless and they inject humour whenever the moment allows.
Cosi Fan Tutte was written by Mozart with specific performers in mind, although the cast do a stirling work in some of the most challenging parts written for voice.
While this production is as modern today it needs to be seen in the environment for which it was written - the theatre, for only then does the true magic of the production and its comedy come to life.
The orchestra played with faultless direction, under the direction of Justin Doyle. I could have sat with eyes closed while listening to the heavy woodwind that seems to dominate the score and the theatre, the applause at the curtain call was much deserved, for in short this was a wonderful production from a talented company who maintained a spectacular focus.