Così Fan Tutte – review

Millennium Centre, Cardiff

It's just 16 months since Welsh National Opera premiered this staging of Mozart's opera buffa, so its revival has come about with unseemly haste. Since the company opened its 2012/13 season with the La Bohème – albeit very fine – that was only unveiled in June, this feels like a second own goal in quick succession. Hardly surprising, then, to see empty seats.

Translating a piece from the sunny shores of Italy and the Enlightenment to a windy 1950s promenade suspiciously like those facing the Bristol channel might have worked. The Italian ice-cream parlour – found all over Wales – is authentic enough, with fish and chips, beer and candyfloss thrown in and about for good measure. But director Benjamin Davis's inclusion of every possible stereotype, from end-of-pier entertainers to funfair to Butlins' redcoats, makes for overload. Even the archetypal Punch and Judy puppets become on-stage characters, and while having a policeman and a crocodile prancing around is just the surrealist touch Davis's mentor Richard Jones likes, here it only creates mayhem. The baby passed from pillar to post belongs to single mother Despina and possibly Neal Davies's showman Don Alfonso, lending more Punch-like dysfunctionality.

For the singers, the stage business and prop-juggling is an endless burden to the essential narrative of lovers' tangles: Elizabeth Watts' often lovely Fiordiligi was under stress. Cora Burggraaf's Dorabella sounded too shrill for comfort and Andrew Tortise's Ferrando was clear but stilted. Gary Griffiths' experience as Guglielmo in the last outing made for greater vocal finesse this time, while Joanne Boag rose above the caricature of Despina. Mark Wigglesworth's artistry in the pit drew delectable sounds from the orchestra to match Mozart's implicit understanding of the emotional dilemmas, but it simply couldn't redeem the production.


Rian Evans

The GuardianTramp

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