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Così fan tutte (tour - Norwich, Theatre Royal)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Psychologically speaking (and singing), there's a great deal about Paul Higgins new production of Mozart's Così fan tutte to think about. Commedia dell'arte traditions are hinted at in the semi-whiteface of Ferrando and Guglielmo before they assume their Albanian disguises and in Despina's masked and beaked doctor. Guglielmo himself is the odd man out, well before his variation in the "E nel tuo" second-act quartet. Alfonso may be a philosopher, but there's a tinge of sadism as he manipulates the fidelity tests.

Designer Samal Blak puts all this in the correct historical context with the simplest of settings and attractive costuming, though Despina does seem to have the same access to silk-weavers a her mistresses. Both acts begin and end behind a gauze, as though defying the audience to take the characters to its hearts. Mozart, of course, makes sure that that's precisely what we do. And conductor James Burton allows the score its proper scope, with the pared-down orchestra letting the pat-ball passages of the overture flip prettily from one section to another.

At the performance I saw, Lorna Bridge took over the role of Fiodiligi. "Come scoglio" with its chest-note to high-note range proved taxing, though the second act "Per pietà" deserved its applause. Dorabella fares less well in the aria stakes, but Kitty Whately makes the most of her moments and suggests that this sister is less to be bossed around by her older sibling than usual. Paula Sides is the buffa soubrette to perfection with real bite for "In uomini' and she's especially effective in "Una donna a quindici anni".

In this production it's not just a matter of vocal registers which distinguishes Ferrando from Guglielmo. Anthony Gregory masters both the lyricism of "un' aura amorosa" and the pain of "tradito, schernito" as Ferrando and Toby Girling provides a mirror-image with distortion as Guglielmo. Richard Mosley-Evans is a dominating Don Alfonso, with better articulation of Martin Fitzpatrick's serviceable if not sparkling translation than some of the other cast members can manage.


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