Review: Cosi fan tutte

First published in the Guardian on 25 September, 2015

Scottish Opera’s new pocket-sized Cosi fan tutte is a sweet, unadventurous period piece set in 1950s Naples. Directed by Lissa Lorenzo, the staging is handsome — vintage dress fans, beware — and easy to follow in Martin Fitzpatrick’s chipper English translation. On surface it’s as straight a telling of Cosi as you’ll find, but it says little about the moral murk at the heart of Mozart’s opera until the disconcerting final image, when the two philandering couples are forced into uneasy poses of socially acceptable monogamy. Until that point, three hours in and beginning to feeling it, the most wicked temptation has been a tray of chocolates and the most dangerous weapon a scoosh of perfume. Surely any new Cosi has got to be more than wedding-obsessed women and swaggering blokes.

The production now tours Scotland with a piano where an orchestra should be. I would have happily traded some of the substantial set for a few more musicians in the pit. That said, pianist Claire Haslin is heroic in her accompaniment, charging through the score with an indefatigable arsenal of articulation, terrific sense of pace and stamina you could drive a truck through.

Singing Mozart opera without the cushioning of an orchestra is tough on voices: they take on the onus of so much extra colour and texture, which is another reason why the night begins to drag (a few cuts to the score wouldn’t have hurt). The cast is young, vocally uneven but lifted by some stand-out performances — particularly from Rosalind Coad as a dignified, refined Fiordiligi. Jennifer France is a sassy Despina, rightly earning the most laughs; Sarah Champion looked more comfortable than she sounded as Dorabella. The boys — Trystan Llyr Griffiths and Ben McAteer as Ferrando and Guglielmo — sing brightly and stylishly. And yes, they roam the stage with all the right swagger.