How to find the right balance for Così fan tutte? It would take the Greek goddess Astraia to come down from Olympus with her legendary scales for the precise equilibrium of Mozart’s masterpiece to be judged exactly – comedy and tragedy, deception and truth, the perfect poise among six characters of equal fascination.
Jonathan Miller’s production for the Royal Opera was as successful as any when it was first seen in 1995. With Miller apparently on hand to give its contemporary setting a nudge into the 21st century – mobile phones now to take the lovers’ photos and a laptop to draw up the marriage contract – the present revival is at once as light-hearted and as profound as ever.
It helps to have two senior Royal Opera artists dispensing their wisdom. Colin Davis has returned to conduct this production for the third time, making sure that Mozart’s score sings with heartfelt grace, even if the comedy could do with more edge. As Don Alfonso, Thomas Allen is even more wickedly perceptive than before, delivering every barbed arrow of insight with a supercilious smile.
The two women are nicely contrasted. Dorothea Röschmann made heavy weather of Fiordiligi’s music – the top notes caused her a superhuman effort in the first act and stopped coming altogether after the interval – but the enthralling character she portrayed, a young woman of silly shallownesses and serious depths, was so real that she could have stepped off the stage and had a life of her own. Elena Garanca’s glamorous Dorabella was one-dimensional by comparison, but this hugely promising young Latvian mezzo has voice to spare.
The two men – Matthew Polenzani as Ferrando and Lorenzo Regazzo as Guglielmo – were as adept as the ladies at delving under the surface of the comedy, though Polenzani’s singing is better at full-throated grief than the vocal caresses of a young lover and Regazzo’s baritone is on the gruff side. All risk being upstaged by the worldly wisdom dispensed by Rebecca Evans’s sharp-eyed Despina, one with a more substantial voice than most, but they never quite are. The Olympian scales register a good balance this time round.
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