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Review: Cosi Fan Tutte at the Arts Centre Melbourne

By Jenna Schroder

In a seaside town, a meddling misogynistic philosopher by the name of Don Alfonso suggests a bet to soldiers Ferrando and Guglielmo; he can prove that their lovers, the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, are just as unfaithful as any other woman. Sure of their lovers’ fidelity, Ferrando and Guglielmo accept the bet and agree to do as Don Alfonso instructs in order to test the sisters. So begins a set of humourous trials.

With a realistic, traditional set, the production starts on a serious tone. It is as if the hyperbole and dramatics of the two couples is a true representation of love and relationships. However, with the first entrance of the sisters’ maid Despina in Act One, the niggling feeling that these characters are so exaggerated they must be caricatures of 18th century upper class sensibilities proves to be correct. From this point, the production devolves into welcomed silliness.

The cast are excellent in their comic delivery, drawing laughs often from the audience. Taryn Fiebig as Despina is a standout. From her first step onto the stage she commands the space and finds humour in every aspect of her performance, even when she’s sitting watching the action unfold, much to the audience’s enraptured enjoyment.

Jane Ede and Anna Dowsley present fantastic characterisations of the sisters and their relatable sibling dynamic furthers the comedic aspects of the production. Pavel Petrov and Samuel Dundas, the sisters’ fiance’s, similarly attack their roles with gusto - capturing the jolly and temperamental nature of a Man Child prankster. Richard Anderson, while left with the Straight Man role of Don Alfonso, handles it with charm.

The cast all produce strong vocal performances. Controlled and clear, they suit the Classical style of the opera and expertly deliver changes in dynamic, offering both soft, sweet reflective moments and bouts of outrage. This is in part due to the everpresent support of conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson. She responds intuitively to what the performers are delivering, creating a sense that the orchestra and cast are one.

However, with so much physicality required of the cast, there are moments where the score’s technical difficulties looks like an effort to punch out. Revival Director Andy Morton, taking cues from Director Sir David McVicar, wisely weaves this sense of effort into the production as if it were a character’s exasperated response to the situation at hand.

This production finds a wonderful balance of inviting the audience to laugh at the characters while also feeling sympathy for them. Morton and McVicar lean into the comedic elements of the opera, adding physical humour including chair throwing and tackles that pay off in spades. This sense of fun creates a pace that effortlessly entertains, with interval coming as a sudden surprise.

The pacing drags a bit from Act Two as Morton an McVicar showcase the vocal gymnastics each performer undertakes in their arias rather than push the narrative forward.

As this production so excels in its comedic light hearted fun, the last minutes of the show are emotional whiplash - a traditionally frivolous ending now becomes not quite so happily ever after. Morton and McVicar bring up an interesting reinterpretation but the message doesn’t totally come across as too much is being said in too little time, all while the surtitles contradict the casts’ distressed reactions creating general confusion and a lack of finality.

Nevertheless, the joy that has gone into creating and performing this production is highly infectious. This, alongside the directors’ skillful hand at creating comedic moments makes Cosi Fan Tutte a night of belly laughing enjoyment.

Image Supplied - Opera Australia

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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