Isabel Leonard as Dorabella, Danielle de Niese as Despina, and Susanna Phillips as Fiordiligi in The Met: Live in HD Mozart's "Cos� fan tutte"


STAGE DIRECTOR: Lesley Koenig, restaged by Robin Guarino

CONDUCTOR: James Levine

CAST: Susanna Phillips, Isabel Leonard, Matthew Polenzani, Rodeon Pogossov, Danielle de Niese, Maurizio Muraro.

SET DESIGNER: Michael Yeargan

RUNNING TIME: 250 minutes, including interval

RATING: 3 stars (out of 5)

Paul Boekooi

Cosi Fan Tutte’s ambiguities and ironies, in an opera that doesn’t really dig any deeper than being a misogynistic farce, urgently calls for a 21st century updating. We’ve had a production set on an ocean liner, the pushing-the-envelope director Peter Sellars created a “Despina’s Diner” in New York, while his German colleague Doris Dörrie placed it in the early swinging ’60s.

A lot of Lorenzo Da Ponte’s original libretto is plain weak and puzzling, while the main drift in this opera – that all women are unfaithful and men are not – is pure hogwash in our time.

Predictably, this Metropolitan Opera staging is fully traditional and cushioned within a non-challenging ambiance. There are no hidden motives or meanings to be found. The darker side of relationships could have been suggested to avoid this too-literal production overflowing with scenic beauty, though from time to time often less than ideally sung.

The main focus in New York was The Met’s second filmed opera of the season conducted by James Levine. This Mozart production was far more polished than his conducting of Verdi’s Falstaff earlier in the season. Levine has a big-boned approach to the composer’s operas. It works especially well since he has to fill an auditorium with 4 000 seats.

What we hear from Levine’s orchestra is a refined sensibility of sound, although the orchestra is just too big to be appropriate in size. But to compensate for this, tempos, texture and detail are at all times ideally handled.

The young cast, apart from Maurizio Muraro’s much-older Don Alfonso who neither looked nor sounded like a master of deception, at best managed to keep the production tingling with a surface excitement, while all of them had musically and vocally some enlightened qualities to share.

Susanna Phillips, who came through the ranks at the Met in her younger years, is a confident, rising young star in especially Italian opera. As Fioridiligi she is moving, vibrant, confident and often palpitating. Her voice’s sound is halfway between a creamy, Viennese-type and one with an Italianate edge.

Isabel Leonard is slightly more subdued but still very colourful as Dorabella. Her voice combines and contrasts with Phillips’ to just the right degree. Totally invigorating is Danielle de Niese as the sparky, knowing chambermaid Despina. She is also totally both spontaneous and natural in her acting, while hamming it up in her two roles in disguise: as a fake doctor and a notary with a marriage contract in his/her hand.

Matthew Polenzani as Ferrando is in fine voice. He knows how to use words while seldom stepping outside vocal verities. At times his characterisation was a bit dour, his movements stodgy and wooden. Rodeon Poggosov has a light baritone which did not always suit Guglielmo’s character which should ideally be more hefty. He did shine in his second-act aria when he realises that he’s been dumped by Fiordiligi.

This staging produced standing ovations, mainly due to Levine’s inspiration and the slickness of the production. But in Act 2 there were longueurs. Finally, for the purists: This production has no cuts.

Screening in Cinema Nouveau and selected Ster-Kinekor theatres.