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A CurtainUp London London Review
Così Fan Tutte

Eat the salami but leave room for the pasta.— Despina illustrating the occasional outrageousness of Cosi Fan Tutte's new English Translation
The production of Così Fan Tutte at the English National Opera's base, the London Coliseum, went ahead on opening night without its director. Abbas Kiarostami, the Iranian film director withdrew his visa application to enter the UK after it seemed that the British Embassy staff in Tehran were being less than helpful. The Guardian reported that a spokeswoman at the ENO said that Mr Kiarostami did "not feel he was treated in a respectful way" when applying for his visa. She added that he found the process "unduly time-consuming and hugely complicated." The production was staged at Aix en Provence last year and Elaine Tyler-Hall, the Associate Director who had worked on it in France, was in charge in London with Mr Kiarostami on the other end of emails.

The sets use a photographic moving backdrop so that, in the first scene, at the rear a crowded café is animated but curiously in sepia tones, the colour destroying any sense of photo realism. In later scenes the waves lap from the Mediterranean through the windows and surprisingly in the last scene, the orchestra is filmed as a backdrop while in front we see the real orchestra in the pit. For all this effort, the finished effects are not really ground breaking.

The premise of the plot of Così Fan Tutte is that an old roué Don Alfonso (Steven Page), (he is described as an old philosopher which must be a euphemism for something else), bets two young men Guglielmo (Liam Bonner) and Ferrando (Thomas Glenn) that their fiancées will be unfaithful, given the opportunity. Don Alfonso, as agent provocateur and misogynist, then employs the two young men against their own desired outcome by pretending to the girls Fiordiligi (Susan Gritton) and Dorabella (Fiona Murphy) that their men are leaving for war. Don Alfonso further brings the men back in disguise with new haircuts, moustaches and some dodgy Eastern European outfits. They declare their suit, try to woo the girls with gifts of net curtains and after being spurned, pretend to take poison for love in order to win their affection. The artful maid Despina (Sophie Bevan) is in league with Don Alfonso, she is receptive to bribery, helps to convince the girls that it is ok to play around and disguised as a doctor, revives the poisoned men. Dorabella starts to cave in to her sister's fiancé the disguised Guglielmo and Fiordiligi is left refusing to transfer her affections but eventually she too seems likely to succumb. However Fiordiligi's answer is for the girls disguised as youths to go off to war in search of their original men.

I very much liked the modern English translation of the libretto from Martin Fitzpatrick. It's light and frothy and delivers the excessively silly declarations, "I'm fainting" says one, "I'm dying" says the other. Fiordiligi says of the persistent suitor, "As he blushes and beseeches, I'll match him sigh for sigh." As Fiordiligi, Susan Gritton's coloratura soprano voice is lovely with some showy notes that display her range. Sophie Bevan as Despina the maid seems brighter than her mistresses and is in the thick of the mischief making. Of the boys, I preferred Thomas Glenn's tenor singing but Steven Page's deep register as Don Alfonso was effective although some of his part is spoken to music.

The London Coliseum is a lovely venue for this very accessible Mozart comic opera – so sorry Mr Kiarostami missed it.

Così Fan Tutte
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte
English translation by Martin Fitzpatrick
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami
Associate Director: Elaine Tyler-Hall

Conductor: Stefan Klingele
Starring: Susan Gritton, Fiona Murphy, Liam Bonner, Thomas Glenn, Sophie Bevan, Steven Page
Design: Malika Chauveau
Lighting: Jean Kalman
assistant Conductor: Nicholas Ansdell-Evans
Chorus Master: Martin Merry
Leader: Gonzalo Acosta
Running time: Three hours 15 minutes with one interval
Co-production with the Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg and the Festival d'Art Lyrique, Aix-en-Provence
Box Office: 0870 145 0200
Booking to 5th July 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 29th May 2009 performance at the London Coliseum, St Martins Lane, London WC2 (Tube/Rail: Charing Cross)

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