To celebrate Mozart’s 250th birthday in 2006, the Dutch National Opera entrusted directors Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito with the production of a Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy. The end result was controversial to say the least. Don Giovanni was choreographed as a weird ballet in a bed emporium. Le nozze di Figaro was set in a luxury car dealers and I still cringe at the memory of the Countess having to sing “Porgi amor” drawing on a flipchart. The company has mercifully scrapped those productions and replaced them with more successful ones. The Così fan tutte currently being revived is the only part of this triptych that has survived. The story is transposed but in this particular case it works rather well and the new cast’s singing and acting ensure that any reservation one could still have is quickly forgotten.

Angela Brower (Dorabella) and Anett Fritsch (Fiordiligi) © Hans van den Bogaard
Angela Brower (Dorabella) and Anett Fritsch (Fiordiligi)
© Hans van den Bogaard

The action is set in a summer camp. The stage is occupied by a gigantic, ugly wood-panelled youth hostel that rotates to uncover a lounge with Scandinavian furniture, a dormitory with bunk beds and a canteen with formica tables. A hippy paces the camp’s grounds, joining in with the harpsichord’s continuo on his guitar. The four leads and chorus play a group of teenagers clad in garish summer outfits in styles spanning three decades from the mid-1950s. Much work has gone into mimicking the expressions and body language of teenagers, in turn playful and sulky. Anett Fritsch as Fiordiligi and Angela Brower as Dorabella especially are bafflingly convincing in their transformation into a couple of awkwardly insecure, inhibited teen sisters.

Davide Luciano, Anett Fritsch, Thomas Oliemans, Sebastian Kohlhepp, Angela Brower © Hans van den Bogaard
Davide Luciano, Anett Fritsch, Thomas Oliemans, Sebastian Kohlhepp, Angela Brower
© Hans van den Bogaard

Don Alfonso is the pipe-smoking summer camp adult supervisor. He challenges the inexperienced teens Guglielmo and Ferrando to seduce each other’s girlfriends. The two boys feign joining the scouts, returning disguised as suit-and-Rayban-wearing cool kids to execute Don Alfonso’s cunning plan. Transposing Così into this teenage first love experience actually works well and is even faithful to the libretto: one of Despina’s arias indeed goes “at the age of 15, a woman should know what goes on”. Somehow, this transposition also tones down the problematic misogyny inherent to the libretto. Everyone will certainly remember how unpredictable and fleeting adolescent summer romances are. In this context, this amorous dupery may not be less cruel but feels more forgivable.

Sophia Burgos, Sebastian Kohlhepp (Ferrando), Thomas Oliemans, Davide Luciano (Guglielmo) © Hans van den Bogaard
Sophia Burgos, Sebastian Kohlhepp (Ferrando), Thomas Oliemans, Davide Luciano (Guglielmo)
© Hans van den Bogaard

Musically, there is much to enjoy. Conductor Ivor Bolton leads the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra in a lively but unmannered reading of the score while keeping a nurturing attention to the singers on stage. Thomas Oliemans, a house favourite since his celebrated performance as Papageno, gives a vivid portrayal as Don Alfonso. His handsome baritone is too healthily produced for the quavering philosopher of the original story but suits the character of the summer camp supervisor perfectly. This Don Alfonso is more mischievous than cynical and one feels all along he finds it tough not to give the game away by bursting into laughter. As his partner in crime, the fiery, chain-smoking dinner lady Despina, Sophia Burgos gives an irresistible performance.

Sebastian Kohlhepp, Davide Luciano, Angela Brower, Anett Fritsch © Hans van den Bogaard
Sebastian Kohlhepp, Davide Luciano, Angela Brower, Anett Fritsch
© Hans van den Bogaard

Davide Luciano and Sebastian Kohlhepp make a sterling pairing as Guglielmo and Ferrando. The Italian’s smooth, chocolaty baritone marries superbly with the German’s handsome, slightly grainy tenor and their singing.The contrast in timbres between Anett Fritsch and Angela Brower is less pronounced. Ms Brower’s pleasant mezzo-soprano is brighter in colour than tradition has accustomed us to. Her Dorabella is beautifully sung and endearingly acted. I’d ideally want a rounder, naturally more sumptuous voice than Anett Fritsch’s for Fiordiligi. Her light lyric soprano sounds overstretched at the bottom of the range in “Come scoglio”. What one loses in pure lushness of sound is however amply compensated by the characterisation she brings through her singing. There is something utterly heart-rending in the fragility verging on desperation that her character projects in “Per pietà” and the aria becomes so much more than just a show piece.

****1