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Opera Review: Cosi Fan Tutte - Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre ✭✭✭✭

COSI FAN TUTTE 

WELSH NATIONAL OPERA 
WALES MILLENNIUM CENTRE 

The principal reason for catching this revival of Benjamin Davis’ “English Seaside” production of “Così fan tutte” must be Elizabeth Watts’ role debut as Fiordiligi. Watts has, up till now, made her name singing the lighter roles such as Susanna and Pamina as well as a highly successful Marzelline at the Royal Opera House. It is a big step both vocally and in how a singer is perceived to move to one of Mozart’s Grande Donne. In addition, the demands Mozart makes on the singer of the role are prodigious with a range from the top of the stave plunging down to basement scraping low notes. This is particularly true of the fiendish Act 1 aria “Come scoglio” designed to show off the role creatrix’s almost freakish range. Watts brought off the aria with aplomb and was even better in the act 2 “Per pieta”. She also etched a richly detailed characterisation ranging from hilariously funny (Her reaction to being splashed with water from the loo remains a treasurable memory) to deeply moving especially in the production’s unremittingly bleak ending.

Watts and Cora Burggraaf’s Dorabella were an unexpected but extremely effective match and totally convinced as sisters. There was some lovely detailed business between them and Burggraaf is just as effective an actress as Watts. I was less happy with her vocal performance - Given the richness of Watts’ voice it was a strange decision to cast a very light mezzo as Dorabella and the blend of the voices was not always well balanced. Burggraaf was at her best in the seduction scene with Guglielmo. Here she judged both acting and singing perfectly and the scene worked beautifully.

As the male counterparts, Andrew Tortise and Gary Griffiths again made an unbalanced vocal pair despite working well as an acting team. Griffiths has a big juicy voice and is a very effective actor - His cocky bravado after his successful seduction of Dorabella contrasted well with his agony on finding out that he too has been cuckolded. Andrew Tortise has an attractive if slightly narrow tenor. He sang “Un aura amoroso” well but, at present, “Tradito, schernito” is a big stretch for him and the climax did not fully come off.

Neal Davies sang a dark toned Don Alfonso and backed it up with a thoroughly unsympathetic portrayal. It won’t appeal to everyone but it certainly chimes in with my view of the character and Davies was utterly convincing.

Photo by Catherine Ashmore
Joanne Boag was a fully realised three-dimensional character as Despina and a world away from the tiresome soubrette portrayals of old. Her scene cleaning the bathroom while singing “Un donna a quindici anni” was laugh out loud hilarious and contrasted tellingly with her pain and discomfort at the denouement. She sang with a bright, warm sound - I look forward to hearing her again soon.

Mozart is not a composer I usually associate with Mark Wigglesworth (The last work I saw him conduct was “Parsifal”!) but he conducted a fleet and witty account of the score and kept a dramatically alert forward momentum where less experienced hands allow the score to drag and fracture into a series of set pieces.

I have rather more mixed feelings about Davis’ production. The seaside setting works perfectly well although one has to ignore a lot of references to gardens. Whether it really adds anything to the work is less sure. Moments of assured staging contrast with poorly managed or misjudged scenes. The worst of these is the mishandling of the Act 1 Finale which is nearly ruined by extras dressed as full size Punch and Judy characters. Contrast this with the superbly well-done and very dark final scene and one wonders how the same director was involved. If the Act 1 finale was rethought and certain details tidied up this could be a very strong and though provoking production. Whether that happens or not I urge people to see it for Elizabeth Watts’ Fiordiligi - In a few years time you’ll be paying a lot more money to see her do it in bigger houses.

SEBASTIAN PETIT

4 STARS ✭✭✭✭

For tour dates please see www.wno.org.uk

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