When we first meet them, it's love's young dream for two couples in Ferrara, so why would two young men trick their lovers, and why would the two women they leave behind forget them so easily? 'Women are all like that' says the title.
But Gloger takes a different tack: his men are drawn into the action of the play they have all been watching together, and they merely act out the roles of new suitors – or start out doing so. His women find clues as to the men's game, and are in the know. And so the action swings between the corseted and bewigged 18th century of the play within a play, and the savvy 1950s of its onlookers.
In the first revival of this very attractive 2016, production all eyes and ears were on the new cast. The only principal returner was Sir Thomas Allen, so at home in the role of meddlesome Don Alfonso, that he might as well be wearing his carpet slippers. Yes, his ideas about tempi may differ from those of conductor Stefano Montanari, making his Covent Garden debut, but hey, everyone finished together...
Sir Thomas Allen has Don Alfonso all buttoned up. Photo: Stephen Cummiskey
Of the newcomers to the show, most welcome is the Italian mezzo-soprano Serena Malfi, returning to London as Dorabella, the sister who resists most in the swap, then falls farthest. The risk that Dorabella takes seems more dangerous than ever in this revival: because these sisters have rumbled their lovers' trick, Dorabella is not only having a fling, she is having a fling with the man she knows – and her sister knows – to be her sister's betrothed. That can't end well, as the lovers' final apprehensive final exit indicates.
Hungarian-Romanian baritone Gyula Orendt is the attractively sung Guglielmo, who wins her round. Georgian soprano Salome Jicia has mischief in her upper register and velvety lower notes that blend deliciously with Malfi's lustrous sound. Tenor Paolo Fanale could not match Orendt's suave sound, but the four make a plausible family in the making.
The action moves in and out of reality and the stage life, as sets are built and struck during numbers – a decorous drawing room, a pastoral hummock – and there is a constant flow of 'stage hands' getting on with their tasks, oblivious to the breaking hearts around them. This entertaining design is by Ben Baur, and costume designer Karin Jud wittily matches ancient and modern.
Sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella are not taken in by their lovers' antics. Photo: Stephen Cummiskey
Conducting the Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Montanari errs on the side of speed: perhaps he learned from 2016 audiences' dismay at Semyon Bychkov's somewhat ponderous reading. In his unexpectedly hilarious continuo playing, Montanari plays musical jokes and quirky inventions on the edgy fortepiano in the manner of a ginger tom who has discovered how your keyboard works.
And so this Così picks its way skilfully between warning and wit. Knocking out some of the lightbulbs of the letter "E" in TUTTE, the neon sign goes up: COSI FAN TUTTI – no longer 'women are all the same', but 'people are all the same'.
'Così Fan Tutte' is sung in Italian with English surtitles. Further performances are on 28 Feb; 4, 9, 13 and 16 March
|What||Così Fan Tutte review , Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
25 Feb 19 – 16 Mar 19, six performances
|Price||£8 - £175|
|Website||Click here for booking|