Saturday 5th March 2016, matinée
As non-opera buffs, we’ve been amused to read about the way that serious opera commentators have tied themselves up in knots in the past over what seems to be the ‘Cosi’ paradox – how could the musical genius Mozart have lent his talents to such a scurrilous story? It was resolved by the apparent discovery of the rich and subtle satire of the piece, but if Peter Shaffer’s ‘Amadeus’ is to be believed, the answer is obvious if unpalatable – Mozart had the sense of humour of an overgrown schoolboy – what can you do?
The plot involves the cynical Don Alfonso, who is trying to convince two soldiers, newly engaged, that all women are faithless. He proposes to give them a substantial cash sum if he fails to trick their fiancées into being unfaithful. Mayhem ensues of course as he cooks up a scheme where the soldiers are obliged to disguise themselves and seduce each other’s sweethearts. Now, what modern scenario might Director Paul Higgins use as a vehicle to update the story, we wonder? The answer, a perfect solution for the cosy King’s Head Theatre, is reality TV. The soldiers find themselves on the popular TV show ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’, complete with neon heart logo and name badges, with most of the action taking place in a big brother style house complete with diary room. The creative team have cleverly come up with a modern-day scenario that makes sense of the action – it doesn’t take much tweaking to turn Don Alfonso into a manipulative host who literally stage-manages events, aided and abetted by maid-turned-floor manager Despina, who quietly enjoys torturing those who think they are superior to her. Faye Bradley’s kitsch lovers’ suite and TV screens add some nice touches and move along the action, but the analogy is not overworked.
Musical Director Elspeth Wilkes presides over a cast of six who are not only impressive singers, but skilled enough actors to extract maximum humour and pathos from the story. The two lads, Laurence Panter as Ferrando, and Jevan Mcauley as Guglielmo, make an excellent ‘Dumb and Dumber’ double act, each fancying himself the better catch. The two sisters Dorabella (Ailsa Mainwaring) and Fiordiligi (Stephanie Edwards) are also a great pair, leading each other astray whilst trying to justify their behaviour. Edwards is particularly powerful in her sung protestations of moral certitude, whilst Mainwaring has a delightful charm and naive curiosity which makes it no surprise that she is the first to weaken. As Despina, the floor manager and orchestrator of the ever more far-fetched machinations, Caroline Kennedy is full of knowing humour, but also brings a nice touch of bitterness as she takes vicarious revenge on her female charges. As Don Alfonso, Steven East perfectly captures the shallow, smooth smugness of a minor TV personality purporting to occupy the moral high ground while he quietly brings everyone else down to his level. Of course we forgive everything when he starts to sing. Freddie Merrydown completes the picture as a silent security guard whose carefully choreographed forays on to the stage are designed to inflame trouble as much as soothe it.
We could hardly call this piece deep – it is entertaining though, and a pleasure to hear the music of Mozart so beautifully sung. The modern setting does bring a satirical edge which is subtly disturbing – on the one hand it allows us to separate the characters from normal life, but on the other, it reminds us what an appetite there is in modern times for watching formerly happy couples destroy each other. We think Mozart would have loved it.