First performed in 1789 Così Fan Tutte was not an instant hit and while there of course have been performances ever since it was only relatively recently, in the 20th century, that the opera was appreciated as one of the very best. The story of two friends testing their fiancées loyalty is on the face of it relatively harmless and playful. But Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte squarely put the emphasis on the women as wrongdoers and the men as seekers of truth. It’s the treatment of women that has dogged this opera from the start, it being seen to downgrade women, if not be outright misogynistic. There are grounds for debate on these issues but as has probably been said many times, it is a product of its time. The essential core of the opera is the search and true understanding of love, that still holds true. And it can’t be overlooked that there is some wonderful music and singing to enjoy.

This new production from Jan Philipp Gloger oddly starts at the end with actors in period costume taking the curtain call during the overture. From there the four lovers appear from the stalls as late entrants, taking selfies and eventually getting onto the stage and into the 21st century. A sign of things to come as Gloger and designer Ben Baur use the stage and theatrical setting to progress the story through a number of distinct set pieces, with the props in stark view and crew changing the sets while the performers perform. The locations (a bar, a train station, the Garden of Eden) serve to push the story along but possibly overly segments the performance.

It was also a trifle distracting especially during the start of the closing sequence of Act 1. The four lovers are in the Garden of Eden and as they began their parts, there are people pottering around in the background. Having said that this section actually turns out to be one of the highlights of the performance, when they are joined by Despina and Don Alfonso and the sextet perform the finale. The bar scene was also one of the night’s highlights as Despina tries to encourage Fiordiligi and Dorabella to make hay while the men are away at the same time egging the men, in disguise, to woo their lovers.

Spanish soprano Sabina Puertolas is a delight as the master of disguise Despina coming over as thoroughly manipulative, while having a jolly good time too! Lurking around the stage, scheming - and seemingly directing - was Johannes Martin Kranzle in his Opera House debut as an effective, creepily cunning Don Alfonso.

The four lovers are rather more mixed bag. There’s stunning Per Pieta from Corinne Winters’ as Fiordiligi in her Royal Opera debut. Angela Brower (another debut) as Dorabella was a solid foil. If there is a weakness it’s in the male leads Daniel Behle and Alessio Arduini as Ferrando and Guglielmo respectively who don’t really convince in the roles.
But Così Fan Tutte is one for the connoisseur of the ensemble, and the cast appeared genuinely at ease with themselves during these pieces.

Performances 29 September and 3,7,12,14,17 and 19 October.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Cummiskey and the Royal Opera House