GRIMEBORN: Cosi Fan Tutte

Classical and opera

Opera

Arcola Theatre

Until Sat Aug 3 2013

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Rowena Bond

HOW I’d love to rave about Così Fan Tutte at the Arcola: my favourite opera performed at a theatre I’ve been attending since it started in a Dalston sweatshop years ago. But I cannot. Twenty or so minutes into Opera24’s interpretation of this story of sexual fidelity, I realised that the singers were struggling just to recite Mozart’s glorious tunes. It was almost as if voice teachers were guiding them via earpieces through the big numbers when they should be making the heart soar. Full points for the acting, especially Andre Refig’s Don Alfonso, charmingly rather than sinisterly manipulating the four young romantics, although Dana Eleni failed to make the most of Despina, maid to the two sisters (Louisa Tee and Sophie Yelland). The role of the smarter-than-her-bosses mischief-maker is brimming with show-stealing potential, as she joins Alfonso in his mission to expose their faithlessness to their lovers because, as Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto title has it, “They all do it”. Brian David’s translation of the libretto prefers to make jokey topical references rather than revise the women-are-sluts message. The implausibility of the plot suggests that none of the story should be taken seriously. But the theme still jars with contemporary audiences. John Jansson’s conducting of was so enjoyable I was able to overlook the occasional error by his seven young players. Benet Catty’s direction is good. It’s let down by voices that are not quite ready for such a well-known piece.