Cosi Fan Tutti: An Excellent Night at the OperaClifford Graham
Clifford Graham: This is a student production, but sitting in the stalls, confronted by extraordinary visuals, sublime music from the pit, who would know it?
In many ways, Mozart’s opera, Cosi Fan Tutti despite its comic moments, can be said to be a dark tale of manipulation, infidelity and emotional cruelty. The temptation in most productions would be to focus on the comedic aspects and gloss over the darkness of Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto. The title Cosi Fan Tutti, translates to women are like that and is often accused of being misogynist. However, director Matthew Wild has in this production taken a different approach. By setting the action in a TV reality show, the comedy is assured along with the cruel manipulations of the host Don Alfonso, played by Phelo Nodlayiya. Television is indeed a cruel medium and the antics of the duped foursome; Fiordiligi, Dorabella, Ferando and Guglielmo are at once slapstick, ridiculous and pathetic. A very mischievous Despina adds to the mayhem by setting up the inevitable theatrics.
This is a student production, but sitting in the stalls, confronted by extraordinary visuals, sublime music from the pit (UCT Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kamal Khan), who would know it? The standard of performance achieved by the UCT Opera School and the creative team is remarkable. The cast will change from performance to performance, but the opening night team of Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi (Fiordiligi), Zolina Ngejane (Dorabella), Siphesihle Mdena (Ferrando), Riaan Hunter (Guglielmo), Janel Speelman (Despina) and Phelo Nodlayiya as Don Alfonso delivered admirably. Mozart’s beautiful, poignant duets and solo arias handled with aplomb. Not to take anything away from the rest of the cast, Riaan Hunter and Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi both gave excellent and measured performances. Providing comic relief at some of the darker moments, Janel Speelman as Despina, delighted the audience. Her depiction of the quack doctor was hilarious.
Kamal Khan leads his orchestra through Mozart’s sublime score with obvious enjoyment. Not just as conductor, but doubling up as harpsichord continuo player.
On the face of it, the plot (as in most opera) is very thin, but Matthew Wild’s staging thickens the action by providing extra twists. The reveal of the deception to all the “contestants” at the end is as big a surprise to the audience as it is to the hapless foursome. Layer on layer, the levels of deception, carefully woven by the arch manipulator Don Alfonso, make this somewhat lengthy opera fly by. The synopsis provided in the programme is not convoluted, making the surtitles of less import. This means less of the on-stage antics are missed.
All in all, an excellent night at the opera.
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