Clever, sharp, funny, warm-hearted – this brilliantly produced Cosi from the WNO was truly a delight from start to finish. It was set in a nameless British seaside town in the early 60s (i.e. pre-mini skirt 60s – we’re still talking huge swirly skirts and buckets of bryl-creem), and this piece of cultural genius somehow managed to make sense of one of the most difficult problems of staging this opera – making it believable that the sister heroines, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, would in the space of a single day abandon their adored fiancés and agree to marry instead two dodgy moustachioed blokes that they’ve just met.
The basic premise behind the elaborate prank that underlies their exposure and humiliation – that women’s affections are inconstant – goes way beyond the standard notion of misogyny to explore its ripely medieval provenance – that women are sexually insatiable and indiscriminate. Naturally this can be a tad distasteful to a modern, post-feminist audience, though in fact it was pretty distasteful to pre-feminist audiences too, leading to a somewhat chequered performance history pre WWII. But in the rootless cultural mix of a seaside holiday, in the sweltering lead-up to the sexual revolution, somehow it all makes much more sense that, having been forced (as they think) to say goodbye to their well-bred, honourable fiancés, the girls would be genuinely influenced by the tempting, get-it-while-you-can advice from their naughty maid Despina, and would want to mix it up with a bit of the Other, in this case grubby-trousered Red-coats whose cocky swagger announces that they’ve got plenty to go round. In other words, it’s all about two rather sheltered girls discovering their sexuality. Dorabella takes to it like a duck to water; Fiordiligi suffers agonies of remorse and self-loathing, but still yields herself to the supposed Tizio, and in no uncertain terms.
Elizabeth Watts was a wonderful Fiordiligi, her anguish beautifully performed and genuinely moving, her seduction brilliantly believable – the moment of her surrender thrilling. Cora Burggraaf was unable to perform last night as Dorabella and the part was taken on with flawless aplomb by Maire Flavin, who was equally beautiful and believable – you would never have known that she wasn’t an original member of the ensemble if you hadn’t been told. Andrew Tortise, who sang Ferrando, had an extraordinary tenor voice – absolutely clear and fine and unmannered, but somehow splendidly carrying. Gary Griffiths was an impressive stage presence as Guglielmo, with a most mellifluous baritone.
Most productions of Cosi stand or fall on the quality of their Despina, however, and I’m pleased to report that Joanne Boag was an absolute superstar and delight, with an excellent line in proletarian scorn and an even better one in prurient speculation. As always the song was bewitching, the harmonies divine. Neal Davies as the mysterious Don Alfonso was a good-humoured plot engine, but gave away no clue as to what would drive him to destroy the loves and lives of the four young people; the seaside setting put him firmly in the territory of Archie Rice, with his creepy comb-over and over-genial manner.
The orchestra was awesome, the rest of the company superb, the choreography, set design, and all comic business simply inspired. Rush out and see it, if there are any tickets left.
Andrea Hopkins (DI Reviewer), 25/10/12
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