“A fine romance, with no kisses” may have worked out for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but what if that same romance also came with no hand-holding, no cuddles – no physical proximity, really, of any kind? That’s the challenge that faced Scottish Opera and director Roxana Haines as they conceived a Covid-compliant staging of Mozart’s lip-locking, partner-swapping comedy Così fan tutte.
Filmed on stage at Glasgow’s handsome Theatre Royal, this socially-distanced production flows surprisingly smoothly. The odd plastic screen aside, you’d hardly notice the restrictions, except where enforced distance actually ups the erotic charge of a scenario in which everyone struggles (in vain) against their basest desires.
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Haines mines the darker side of a comedy in which the cynical Don Alfonso plays romantic puppet-master to his young friends Ferrando and Guglielmo, betting them that – in just one day and with the help of a couple of handy disguises – he can prove their two fiancées unfaithful.
It’s a concept straight out of a TV dating show, and here a preening Alfonso (Michael Mofidian) becomes the host – self-consciously checking his hair in the camera, brandishing suitcases of cash, conducting the orchestra when some mood music is needed – while the four lovers are unwitting participants in his ghastly gameshow.
Having set up her frame, Haines resists the urge to oversell it, and what follows is a surprisingly light-touch, contemporary take on the opera, any cruelty balanced out by the wholesome youthfulness of a cast built around the company’s Emerging Artists.
Mofidian schemes and smoulders with wonderfully vulgar relish – a musical foil to Shengzhi Ren’s sweet-toned Ferrando and Arthur Bruce’s Guglielmo. They’re well-matched in Margo Arsane (a kittenish Dorabella) and Charlie Drummond’s sterner Fiordiligi. Drummond’s really is a peach of a voice, and her Per pieta stills everything for a moment of real beauty.
Stuart Stratford conducts a pacy, energised account of the score, and with the orchestra at the back of the stage rather than in the pit, we don’t miss any details in the many woodwind and brass solos. This is stylish stuff – opera that’s germ-free, but far from sanitised.
Available at scottishopera.org.uk/shows/cosi-fan-tutte