I am not certain I understood the closing of John Cox’s 2004 staging of Cosi fan tutte, revived with a splendid cast at Garsington Opera this season, as the two “soldiers” leave their lovers and head off to war. Have they decided that women really are all the same and they are better off with their comrades in arms. Or is it just that as Cox has placed the opera in the pre-World War era the men really are off to the battlefields?
Anyway, it all looks very pretty with Edwardian costumes, a tableaux of a Mediterranean resort and the interior of a casino where Don Alfonso makes his bet with the naïve and headstrong Ferrando and Guglielmo regarding the fidelity of their lovers the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella. The designs of Robert Perdziola are a delight.
This eve of war theme is carried through when the now in disguise lads appear as sailors (ships are in the harbour), striped beach changing tents are transformed for medical use and, as mentioned, the boys really do go off to fight in their World War I uniforms. It does all rather have the look of an English country garden party as the dark clouds of war gather, than an Italianate school for lovers but it hardly matters.
Gavin Ring and Seán Boylan
There is humour balanced with pathos throughout the opera and the Irish soprano Ailish Tynan excels given the opportunity to squeeze all the comic opportunities from the role of the worldly servant Despina – she too takes the wartime theme as she appears decked out in a ridiculous army trench coat and helmet to appear as Dr Mesmer. Tynan veers just on the right side of slapstick.
Our Don Alfonso is portrayed by Henry Waddington as a rather slimy and unattractive casino shark who lures his little fish into the distasteful trial of the fidelity of the women. Those two lads are sung and acted with relish by Seán Boylan (who was a pleasing Don in Nevill Holt’s Giovanni last year) as an over-confident Guglielmo who oozes male bravado and as by fellow Irishman Gavin Ring as a more circumspect gently sung Ferrando. Similarly distinctively drawn were the sisters from a thrilling Camilla Harris as a more serious and more difficult to seduce Fiordiligi and a more flirty Dorabella from a delightfully sung Polly Leech. Camilla Harris well deserved the audience’s enthusiasm at the curtain call.
The wedding contract scene at the casino roulette table
The English Concert musicians under Tobias Ringborg gave an elegant reading of Mozart’s score with some captivating moments particularly from the woodwind and horns.
This was in essence a feel-good summer show with captivating singing and acting from a quartet of talented young singers and polished seasoned performers.
Main image: Polly Leech and Camilla Harris
Images: Craig Fuller
Until July 20.