As is the case on most sunny Sydney evenings, on the opening night of Cosi Fan Tutte, a young bride and groom posed on the steps of the Opera House for their wedding portraits. Inside the Opera Theatre, the opening scene of Jim Sharman’s 2009 production of Cosi featured a bride and groom who looked startlingly like those on the steps of the house. At the end of the overture, they both take seats on either side of the stage to watch Mozart’s classic comedy unfold and learn the lessons of life and love.
Director Jim Sharman has created a Cosi all about youth, colour and passion. Unlike many of Mozart’s other operas, Cosi is quite focused on a very small group of characters. It really succeeds or fails on the performances of the cast of six. Luckily, Opera Australia has assembled some very exciting singers, who bring these familiar characters to life with fine voices and great acting.
Sharon Prero and Sian Pendry play Fiordiligi and Dorabella respectively, as naïve, self-centred, young modern women. Pendry’s Dorabella is absolutely charming, and is somehow the most likeable of the four lovers, despite being the first to give into temptation. Prero gives a thrilling vocal performance as Fiordiligi, easily negotiating some of Mozart’s more difficult phrases.
Samuel Dundas proves himself to be a fine actor, capable of capturing both Guglielmo’s more introspective moments as well as his testosterone-fueled bumbling. Stephen Smith plays Ferrando with great vocal sensitivity, although he struggles when the score calls for a little more grit.
Richard Anderson is great as the knowing Don Alfonso, and Lorina Gore almost steals the show with her striptease as a very sassy Despina. This is a production where the music really shines, with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra under the vibrant direction of Benjamin Northey.
The set, by Ralph Myers is impressive, both artistically and in terms of construction. The spectacularly warped perspective takes a little to get used to, and the actors occasionally looked a little uncomfortable running up and down a very steep surface, but the overall effect is stunning. The costumes, by Gabriela Tylesova are bright and beautiful, taking inspiration from the fashion of Mozart’s time as well as recent runway styles. Tylesova’s work really shines in the garden scene in Act two, where the ensemble creates a spectacular garden in some of her more ingenious sheer white creations.
The piece is performed as if it were some kind of modern morality tale. Not to say that it’s not every bit as fun as Cosi should be, but Sherman’s vision is clearly about showing the follies of the lovers as a lesson for everybody. There are some really exciting moments in his interpretation, such as the opening, and a scene where Fiordiligi and Dorabella are singing about the end of happiness, while lounging and receiving massages. But a few moments do miss the mark, such as the unexpected appearance of a dildo. It’s hilarious and cheeky, but doesn’t seem to really fit the tone of the rest of the production.
Cosi ends with a message of positivity. The cast tells the audience that if they can work their way through the complications of life and love, they can live happily. You can only hope that the young couple on the steps of the Opera House manages to achieve the same.