Review: Welsh National Opea: Cosi Fan Tutte, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

Review: Welsh National Opea: Cosi Fan Tutte, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

By Martin Brisland

Lessons in love, a day in the school of hard knocks or men behaving misogynistically?

Mozart’s opera has divided opinion since it was first performed in 1790. Translated as ‘All women do the same’, it explores sexist male behaviour towards women who are presumed to be fickle and untrustworthy.

In the nineteenth century, the opera was considered vulgar and fell out of favour, only returning to the repertoire in the late 20th century. Mozart’s librettist Lorenzo da Ponte led an eventful life rising from poverty and unable to read or write to collaborating three times with the composer. Ponte was a friend of serial womaniser Casanova in Venice and had to flee due to his own bad behaviour. After bankruptcy in London, he ended up in New York where he helped open America’s first opera house.

Welsh National Opera’s new production by director Max Hoehn tells us the story of Fiordiligi (Sophie Bevan) and Dorabella (Kayleigh Decker) whose partners put them to a fidelity test for a bet. Guglielmo (James Atkinson) and Ferrando (Egor Zhuravskii) and their puppet masters are Don Alfonso (José Fardilha) and co-conspirator, Despina (Rebecca Evans) are guilty of what in today’s world is similar to online grooming.

Hoehn’s new production is a literal interpretation of its secondary title of the School for Lovers setting the opera in a school. In our society in which abuse of the young by those charged with supervising them is all too familiar, the opera has much relevance today.

It’s customary to view Mozart’s sublime music as above the questionable action it follows. Tomás Hanus, conducting his first Mozart, gets a spirited and flawless performance from the orchestra. At times Mozart’s music seems not so much to put Da Ponte’s words to music as to comment on them or even subvert them.

The single set acts as classroom, assembly hall, gym and canteen. In his scholastic gown, Don Alfonso, the deeply cynical old bachelor teacher, is sung by veteran José Fardilha.

As Fiordiligi, Sophie Bevan’s singing is superb in this most demanding of operatic roles. She brilliantly conveys her character’s emotional turmoil.

Kayleigh Decker’s Dorabella is an excellent mezzo foil for Bevan and their voices blend superbly.

The opera mixes the farcical with the serious and Rebecca Evans steals the comedic honours. Her Despina appears in various disguises as a canteen-lady, a doctor practising mesmerism and the notary for the marriage ceremony.

Designer Jemima Robinson uses sexual imagery with outsize illustrations of male and female genitalia.

A cut-out Adam and Eve represent the loss of innocence in the Garden of Eden.

The ending of the work is ambiguous, with much left uncertain as to whether the two pairs of lovers are finally reconciled. A thought provoking coming of age opera that you must see.


  • The WNO are at the Mayflower until Saturday 23 March. Tickets from
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