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Così fan tutte review - New Theatre Oxford

By Charlotte ‘Poddy’ Wilson @poddywilson

The @thatoxfordgirl student ambassador team were buzzing to be #invited to the press night of Così fan tutte:

The Welsh National Opera, in their current production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, have chosen to present it under the English subtitle of ‘The School for Lovers’, a direct translation of the opera’s original subtitle, ‘La scuola degliamanti’. Usually, the idea of school is more metaphorical, with the principal characters making discoveries by which their childish naivety is lost, but in this production, the school is made literal. You would be forgiven for thinking that you had walked into a showing of School of Rock from the set and costumes. Don Alfonso, the philosopher, is transformed into the headmaster, Despina, the maid, into the dinner lady. The chorus are made up of an assortment of rugby boys and hockey girls, replete with pigtails and mud-caked sports kit. And why not? The story is reliant on gullibility, childish infatuation, and juvenile pride… it makes so much sense for the action to take place in an actual school!

The story centres around two pairs of lovers: Fiordiligi and Guglielmo, and Dorabella and Ferrando. As the two boys boast of their girlfriends’ undying fidelity, their master, Don Alfonso, decides to put them in their place, by wagering that, when put under the test, this fidelity would not endure. The boys therefore pretend to leave for war, and, in their absence, two handsome strangers appear to woo their mourning girlfriends… two very familiar looking strangers… With the help of some encouragement from Despina, and some rather outrageous schemes involving poison, magnets, and hallucinations, the boys attempt to woo one another’s girlfriend, and through their failure, to prove Don Alfonso wrong. Unfortunately, as the title suggests, così fan tutte, in other words, women are like that, and Don Alfonso’s prediction inevitably comes to pass.

I myself am far from an opera afficionado – in fact, I only saw an opera for the first time four days earlier – but this production feels to me like the perfect introduction. With the translated surtitles above the stage, the deftness and confidence of the performances, and the silliness of the story, it is simply too easy to invest in the plot. This opera has had something of a bad rap over the past centuries due to its sexist depiction of women, but this production handles such themes with just the right amount of lightness and absurdity. As the girls lament their boyfriends’ departure, the hyperbole of their lyrics is juxtaposed with the soaring virtuosity of their voices. The same is true of the boys, bragging immaturely about their undeniable irresistibility, with wonderful vocal richness, as they lean against their lockers. A special mention must be made to Rebecca Evans’s Despina, whose every innuendo landed the perfect comic punch, and whose vim and vigour was a constant driver of energy throughout.

All in all, this production is a true romantic comedy, with the emphasis on comedy, and not one to be missed, during its run at the New Theatre!

There are so many brilliant productions hitting the New Theatre this spring! Check them out here.


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