Presented by Flat Pack Music
Directed by Lorna Rushton
Casa Theatre, Liverpool
13th April 2018
Reviewed by Joe Coventry
There was a different buzz about the Casa Bar as a decent crowd awaited tonight’s performance in English of Mozart’s Italian opera Buffo in two Acts, Cosi fan Tutte.
The title is hard to translate but Women Are Like That gets near, and the subtitle (La Scuola degli Amanti), The School for Lovers, is enough to say that men are not much better. Written in 1790 this comedy of human relationships is updated for the present era by Lorna Rushton, director of tonight’s company, Flat Pack Music. The intimate space was just right for the cast of six and the piano of Robert Chesters to perform in.
The modern setting still works and carries the intended comedy to good effect. The girls are infatuated with pictures of their beaus on smart phones when not infatuating themselves with ‘selfies’ and come back from shopping with massive bags containing mostly fresh air and cans of soft drinks, with straws to huddle over.
For their part the male ‘Albanian’ romancers get away with the addition of improbable false moustaches and building site gear, including helmets to woo the flighty girls who get dressed in their best togs for the amourous rendezvous. Then there was a need to carry on regardless when (unintended?) a moustache falls off or when the men had to be in two places at the same time and miraculously revive from a fake poisoning. It all happened with the cast providing their own props, which was no mean feat in itself.
The logistics then:
Two sisters Dorabella (mezzo) and Fiordilig (soprano) are in love with Ferrando (tenor) and Gugliemo (baritone) respectively. The two soldiers have a cynical friend Don Alonso (bass) who sets in motion a plan to test the sisters veracity and is helped in it by Despina (soprano), who plays maid to the beauties.
The Don tells the girls that their men have gone to war, when in fact they reappear on stage as ‘Albanian’ mates of his. The new disguises work, and fresh liaisons are formed and are tested throughout the opera as emotions shift and commitments fluctuate until all is eventually resolved amicably at the end.
The tale is told through the interchange of characters singing as the action develops. The men in a cafe construct the plot; the girls in the garden, aghast at the news, are singing a duet ‘Amore,’ which transmogrifies into ‘Courage Fails Me’. A quintet for voice culminates in Guglielmo’s ‘You’ll Write Long Letters Often’ before the malicious Alfonso joins in a delicate trio wishing the departed soldiers ‘Calm Seas and Gentle Breezes’.
At first the girls resist any advances, despite the boys faking taking poison, but Dorabella relents to Guglielmo’s ‘O Vision So Charming’. Despite the goading of Despina, Fiordiligi holds out as the men become more complicit themselves. When Ferrando gives her the come on with ‘Well I Knew A Maid So Enchanting’, she resists with her heartfelt pivotal aria ‘Ah My Love Forgive my Madness’, nine minutes of remorse: then she cracks.
The new partnerships are due to be confirmed as the soldiers ‘return’ to interrupt the wedding ceremonies. Guglielmo has already conceded that ‘Ladies Have Such Variations, Permutations and Combinations’ before the famous trio of the title is sung by the girls and Alfonso. A rousing sextet sees everybody content (perhaps) at last.
So what about the performances? Heather Heighway (Fiordilini) and Helen Anne Gregory (Dorabella) as the star crossed lovers led the way with Matthew Mannion (Guglielmo) and Joseph Buckmaster (Ferrando) hitting the the high notes when required. Sarah Williamson (Despina) puts in a triple shift of bit parts; maid, doctor and notary; and was commendable doing so but Mark Rawlinson (Don Alfonso) was a bit out of sorts.
Overall those present got 2 hours and 30 minutes for their money, well worth the efforts of everyone involved. North-West based Flat Pack Music have more in the locker and are a good ambassador for bringing opera to a wider audience. The Casa deserves credit too, for staging an enjoyable evening.