Why don't the young women notice that their new suitors bear a very strong resemblance to each other's betrothed? They wouldn't fool us... But this is the mountain that every director of Così must climb, albeit with the help of several Shakespearean plots as crampons.
The solution for Phelim McDermott and his physical theatre company, at English National Opera, in a sugar-rush revival of 2014 production, is to stage the whole affair in the fantastical world of a 1950s Coney Island-style funfair, where nothing is as it seems and a big wheel turns in the background. It mirrors the circular plot, as artists of all shapes and sizes trick and tumble in a tireless display of acrobatics.
‘Lies. Love. Chocolate. Poison’ promise the artists on cards at the start of this vaudevillian parade of circus skills, popping up out of a magic chest. Even before the overture has ended, we know we are in for a thoroughly good time.
Soprano Nardus Williams (right) wards off unwanted attentions. Photo: Lloyd Winters
And so it proves, with the well-matched Ferrando and Guglielmo swopping their naval officers' uniforms for jeans and rhinestones. Two Samoan singers inhabit these roles –graceful tenor Amitai Pati making his British debut and the rich-voiced baritone Benson Wilson. Both are mischievous and defiant when challenged by misogynist Don Alfonso.
Bass-baritone Neal Davies is wonderfully entertaining in this not always attractive role, larging it in a mustard Zoot, and much aided by soprano Soraya Mafi as multi-talented Despina, laughter bubbling through her nimble voice. Here Despina is a chambermaid at the Skyline Motel, and Mafi does a marvellous turn as a line-dancing sheriff presiding over an on-the-spot wedding. Jeremy Sams's wonderfully witty free translation is a welcome guest.
As Fiordiligi, soprano Nardus Williams sails through Mozart’s notoriously difficult arias with elegance and exceptional musicality, the lustrous sheen of her voice showing her to be a truly great Mozartian. She demonstrated this too in her Countess in The Marriage of Figaro at Opera Holland Park last summer. McDermott expects high-wire acts from his singers too: Williams's demanding first aria is sung as she sprints in and out of doorways like the fastest of farceuses, her second while flying high above the stage in the gondola of the big wheel.
Mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp is often seen in a trouser role: she was very dashing as the young male lover in Garsington Opera’s production of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, Culture Whisper’s favourite production of 2021. So it is a treat to see Hipp in full Dirty Dancing mode in the flouncy gown (costume Laura Hopkins) that rapidly replaces the prim pullover, bobby socks and pencil skirt of her first romance.
Improbable's carousel. Photo: Lloyd Winters
The 12 artists of Improbable make the wheels turn, literally in the case of the fairground rides, magically pirouetting giant cups and saucers and undulating carousel animals on Tom Pye's candy-coloured set.
In the pit there are a few thrills and spills, and at times the ride runs a little slowly under conductor Kerem Hasan, making his ENO debut. Bet he was happy with his chorus, here in their element, characterful and at the heart of the action as US Marines, hucksters and fun-seekers.
This is Phelim McDermott's second pick-me-up at ENO this seaon, which opened with his spellbinding production of Philip Glass’s Satyagraha.
The morning after first night, my daily paper suggested 50 cheering-up social media feeds.Here’s my tip: put your phone down and go to Così Fan Tutte instead. We all love a sneezing cat, but this music and spectacle will be in your head for ever.
Così Fan Tutte is sung in English with English surtitles. It is a joint production with the Metropolitan Opera, New York. Further performances are on 16, 18, 20 and 22 March. Click here to book
|What||Così Fan Tutte, English National Opera review|
|Where||English National Opera, London Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4ES | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Embankment (underground)|
14 Mar 22 – 22 Mar 22, Five performances including one matinee, start times vary. Running time c 3hr 15min including one interval
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|