English National Opera has been taking some creative risks with its productions lately. In recent months we’ve seen a gorgeous and thrillingly physical Magic Flute directed by Complicite’s Simon McBurney; a revival of the company’s ambitious 2007 staging of Satyagraha in collaboration with theatre magicians Improbable; and now this new production of one of Mozart’s best-loved operas, again in collaboration with Improbable. It’s as full of ravishing tunes, visual spectacle and buoyant humour as a comic opera about two men who cruelly test the fidelity of their lady-loves can be.
Cosi’s central themes — love, deception and the battle of the sexes — are universal enough to be moulded into a variety of historical settings. Here, the action plays out in the mid-century US, with a set design suggesting the Coney Island boardwalk and a supporting cast of acrobats and circus freaks. Tom Pye’s beautiful mobile set allows the cast to play up the (already-present) farcical elements of Cosi’s plot; characters duck in and out of hotel rooms, allowing the audience to eavesdrop on crucial exchanges while plausibly concealing these from the players.
The new production boasts some excellent performances: soprano Kate Valentine gives an expressive performance as Fiordiligi, while mezzo-soprano Christine Rice exercises a gift for physical comedy, as well as a lovely warm tone, as Dorabella. Soprano Mary Bevan is a fabulously mischievous Despina, assisting Don Alfonso (Roderick Williams) with his rakish schemes.
Cosi’s often uncomfortable central premise — that all women are ultimately faithless, no matter how hard they protest to the contrary — needs a light touch to prevent the narrative from descending into bleak cynicism, and director Phelim McDermott keeps things bright with his agile staging and nimble pacing. Mozart brings the tunes, the supporting players bring the vaudeville colour, and the whole cast brings a comic touch that keeps this Cosi fresh and delightful. Deceit and treachery have rarely been so delicious.
Cosi Fan Tutte is at the Coliseum until 6 July. Book online at the ENO website. Londonist saw this performance on a complimentary review ticket.