Tobias Hoheisel’s stage set for this Mozart opera consists of a giant camera obscura or, more likely, a daguerreotype camera. It opens up and inside we find various parlour-type settings where the characters (in 18th/19th century costumes) plot with, deceive and woo each other. It may be the case that this choice of stage set is thematically tied to the action in a particular way.
The action of the opera involves the two main male characters (dressed as soldiers) staging a departure for the frontlines only to return in disguise to engage in the seduction of each other’s fiancées, which is successful – così fan tutte.
Clunky ‘Candid Camera’
The action, then, might make us think of the kind of ‘hidden camera reality television series’ humour in which actors draw an unknowing member of the public into a situation in which they are made to look foolish – the humour of shows like ‘Candid Camera’.
Here the camera is hidden because it is the outer limits of their world. It may well be a clever choice of stage set, but ultimately it begins to feel somewhat clunky and limiting.
Tim Albery’s production never quite rises above the level of a solid and somewhat engaging offering.
The quartet of main singers along with William Dazeley playing Don Alfonso produce reliable performances, so that the opera’s highlights (‘Soave sia il vento’, for example) don’t fail to hit the mark.
But somehow one can be left with the feeling that the production is rather ‘boxed in’ and fails to reach the emotional heights opera can reach.
The educated swapper
But it is always a pleasure to see this opera, and one feature you can always actively enjoy is what the switch of partners means on a musical level.
The story starts out with the initial matches of a soprano and baritone (Fiordiligi and Guglielmo), and a mezzo-soprano and a tenor (Dorabella and Ferrando). Musically, this is unconventional.
The ‘swapping’ results in the combination of soprano and tenor, on the one hand, and mezzo-soprano and baritone, on the other, which brings order to the music, and serves to somehow sanction the new couplings and render them inevitable.