Cosi fan tutte, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2010Posted on 11 September 2010
A theologian friend of mine tells me that when the angels in heaven perform in the presence of God the Father they play Bach, but en famille they play Mozart. And in his opinion this is their favourite opera. It certainly is a remarkable work, with its beautiful symmetry centred on the two poles of reason and natural instinct, represented by Don Alfonso and Despina. I have found it psychologically the most disturbing of Mozart’s operas, but that only goes to show that the music is in fact more powerful than is sometimes recognised.
In this gloriously effective production by Jonathan Miller, with its simple set and modern costumes, Thomas Allen was a suave Don Alfonso, fluent and natural, never going too far, and reminding me of his appearance earlier this year in a similar role as Don Prosdocimo in Il Turco in Italia. His early soliloquy Non son cattivo comico was beautifully done, and even his silences had a charming eloquence. Before the start of the performance he made a speech introducing the new season, and during the overture he and two other men were apparently dining together in a low-level box at the side of the stage, before stepping one by one on to the stage to sing — just one of many nice touches in this production.
The whole cast worked wonderfully well together, with Rebecca Evans as a delightfully coy Despina, along with Maria Bengtsson and Jurgita Adamonyte as Fiordiligi and Dorabella, and Stephane Degout and Pavol Breslik as Guglielmo and Ferrando. The voices were well contrasted, particularly the women, who otherwise looked suitably like sisters, and it would not be easy to put together a better cast. Maria Bengtsson, Jurgita Adamonyte and Pavol Breslik were all singing their roles for the first time at Covent Garden, and the fact that they worked so well together was surely due to Jonathan Miller, who had returned to rehearse this revival. It is perhaps awkward to single out anyone, but Maria Bengtsson was quite extraordinary as Fiordiligi, her voice so clear and strong, and her Per pieta in Act II a masterpiece. This is I suppose what the angels might sound like if they perform this opera in the great beyond.
Thomas Hengelbrock, making his Covent Garden debut in the orchestra pit, deserves to feel very satisfied. His support for the singers was always sure and the orchestra played with an admirably light touch. Altogether this is a wonderful Cosi, and I’m delighted to have seen this new cast.
Performances continue until September 24.