Cosi fan tutte

Director: Matthew Wild

Cast: Students of UCT Opera School and the UCT Orchestra conducted by Kamal Khan

Venue: Baxter Theatre

until: September 1

Rating: *****

More than once in the course of this sparkling production, you have to remind yourself that its vocalists and musicians are students rather than seasoned performers; the aplomb with which they deliver Mozart’s enigmatic opera has a sophistication and authority not generally associated with fledgling performers.

Three crystalline sopranos, two resonant baritones and a finely-nuanced tenor lead the cast under the zany, but brilliant direction of Matthew Wild, who proves yet again that he has the ability to disconcert and delight his audiences, jolting their complacency and confounding their expectations.

Who else would have thought of setting an 18th-century masterpiece in the context of a 21st-century reality TV show, with its distinctive blend of emotional voyeurism and whimsy?

Wild not only does it, but he pulls it off – and the polished rendition of Mozart’s exquisite music from the UCT Symphony Orchestra adds piquancy to the whole exercise.

The departure from convention is apparent as the first notes of the overture are played: surtitles enlighten the audience regarding the dumb-show enacted as a preface to Act One, as the young leads learn that they have won a home make-over.

All the attendant publicity brings an invasion of cameramen as well as decorators and builders into their space (quintessential reality TV).

What ensues is a repeated violation of their privacy as the ubiquitous cameras and lights appear at inappropriate moments throughout the testing of female constancy and the torture of their lovers.

All of which is instigated by the urbane Don Alfonso, who, like the audience, is just having fun.

This production triumphs through the consistency of performance as there is not a weak link in the cast: show-stealer Janel Speelman (Despina) and the two couples (baritone Riaan Hunter as Gugliemo and tenor Kwakhanya Mavuka as Ferrando, Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi as Fiordiligi and Zolina Ngejane as Dorabella) interact effortlessly in their portrayals.

The pivotal persona of Don Alfonso is entrusted to Phelo Nodlayiya, whose rich and unforced baritone is well up to the demands of this part. His stage presence is more subdued than dominant – no doubt another little touch of the unexpected from director Wild.

Arias from the young lovers, particularly in the second act, are vocal highlights in an entertaining production which unites sublime music with thought-provoking interpretation. Bravi, Wild, Khan, and their committed cast.