(ear)

 

Sun, sand, sea and infidelity

Lovers in disguise:  Gary Griffiths (Guglielmo) and Robin Tritschler (Ferrando) set out to seduce their respective fiancée. Pictures: Catherine Ashmore

Cosi Fan Tutte

Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome

****

BENJAMIN Davis’s first full-blown production for Welsh National Opera moves Mozart’s lightweight opera from Naples in the 1700s to a British seaside resort somewhere in the 1950s.

It reminded me of Scarborough for some strange reason, apart from what appeared to be Vesuvius glowing in the background, although this being WNO I suppose we should have been thinking of Pwllheli, Llandudno or Porthcawl or somewhere more Cymry.

The imaginative set by designer Max Jones with its two floor Botticelli’s Gelateria  - allowing scenes in the upstairs bathroom - and the pier ticket office-cum-Punch and Judy show adds beautifully to the illusion of a seaside resort frozen in time.

The authenticity extends to the costumes which are a mix of Donald McGill postcards – including a lady decked in bathing costume complete with cap who is the size of Great Orme, if we are having a Welsh theme - and scenes from a Butlin’s brochure from the Coronation Year of 1953, complete with Redcoats. Hi-di-Hi and all that.

Daniele Rustioni conducts the orchestra in a lively and light interpretation with James Southall a delight on the harpsichord. To complete the seaside theme all the bulbs are there for the illuminations but somehow the production rarely manages to have them all switched on at the same time.

Something was lacking, that spark that lifts the merely good to the memorable.

Robin Tritschler (Ferrando), complete with novelty nose, finally seducesCamilla Roberts (Fiordiligi).

Robin Tritschler and Gary Griffiths were fine as the Italian sailors stationed in the British seaside resort (don’t ask too closely about fine details) and Tritschler’s light tenor Un’aura amorosa (a loving breath) praising his fiancée Dorabella and her fidelity (don’t count your chickens son) is one of the highlights, beautifully sung.

The two fiancées Helen Lepalaan as Dorabella and Camilla Roberts as Fiordiligi, sisters visiting from Italy, could hardly be faulted either and their duets are a delight as is Dorabella’s È amore un ladroncello (Love is a little thief) as she admits her infidelity.

The plot is simple. The two sailors claim to their friend Don Alfonso, an Italian immigrant who just happens to be an end of the pier entertainer, that their beloveds would be faithful for ever and a day, or at least until the end of the second act.

Don Alfonso, played with a sort of wide-boy roguish charm by Neal Davies bets them a hundred chips (no fish) that all women are lacking in loyalty and putting trust in them is futile.

This is a less cynical Alfonso, who looks like a bookie from an Ealing comedy incidentally in his tartan suit and trilby, who does not come over as disenchanted and betrayed in love as the more embittered bloke found in some versions. To him it is all a bit of a laugh and a wager between mates.

To prove his assertion he has the sailors in uniform pretend to go off to war. Despite the fact they are the only two from the entire garrison heading off to a war no one has heard of the sisters are distraught (and gullible).

The men then appear as disguised strangers – bad false noses and moustaches, red coats and, in Guglielmo’s case, a pair of shorts that would only be at home in the 50s - to attempt to woo their fiancées.

Don Alfonso, with 100 chips at stake, then involves Despina into his dastardly plan. She is the Italian immigrant single mum waitress and chambermaid at the ice cream parlour-cum-guesthouse where the sisters are staying and, without knowing who they are, is persuaded to look after Don Alfonso’s new best mates ever.

Helen Lepalaan (Dorabella) is slowly succombing to the charms of Gary Griffiths (Guglielmo)

Despina has a rather low opinion of men, claiming they cannot be trusted – especially when they are off playing at soldiers – and suggests the sisters should have some amorous fun while they are away  - a bloke in the hand being worth two in the war so to speak.

The girls take a bit of persuasion but eventually fall to the charms of their disguised fiancées except Dorabella falls for Guiglielmo and Fiordiligi ends up with Ferrando.

Claire Ormshaw adds a bit of humour to the role of Despina, her toilet brush moment is priceless, as well as a fine soprano voice which is big enough for the role except for some reason when she pretends to be the notary marrying the strangers off to each other’s fiancées when she not only appears as small as a child but has a small child’s voice as well.

The crowd scenes are a bit confusing with fairground characters, strong man and the like, along with blokes in cloth caps wandering about, particularly at the wedding scene when it looks almost as if they have been pushed on stage and told not to get in the way.

In the parallel production of Turandot you felt the crowd scenes were choreographed, here they look a bit of a mess.

The miniature fairground pulled on stage by a dragon train in the second act is also a bit strange. It is either a nice touch or incomprehensible depending upon your point of view but the flashing lights on the helter skelter and the annoying constantly changing colours of the miniature merry-go-round, centre stage, were certainly an unwanted distraction for the rest of the performance.

VIRTUE GONE

With both sisters’ virtue having gone out with the tide Don Alfonso wins his bet and tells the men that all women are like that – Cosi fan tutte – and when the two sailors cast off their Redcoat disguises and return as themselves their respective fiancées are distraught again, this time with shame and when Despina reveals herself as the notary they have the added shame, along with the now angry Despina, of all having been duped.

But Don Alfonso has the last word telling everyone they have learned a lesson and to accept things as they are as everyone is forgiven and is set to live happily ever.

The production brings the story out well and keeps up a good pace with some lovely, deft touches and, most of the time, fine singing although a couple of times the ensemble and orchestra did appear to be having a little competition amongst themselves.

As said earlier all the elements are there and apart from a few quibbles there is nothing wrong with what is an imaginative production but that spark of inspiration is missing. To continue the fairground analogy – close but only a small cigar. The final performance is on Saturday, 11-06-11.

Roger Clarke

Home Hippodrome  Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre