Frequently unpacked since its première in 1993, the opening night of the Bavarian State Opera's well-preserved production of Così fan tutte began with the blemish of a cast change announcement. Cosi's Dorabella, Angela Brower, was indisposed and replaced by Bettina Göschl in costume and Gaëlle Arquez in voice. But this accidental duo added quirky intrigue to Mozart's two-act dramma giocoso and both slotted in with complete assurance. On the contrary, if I was to resort to superstition, our split Dorabella seemed to jinx the night on many levels.

<i>Così fan tutte</i> © Wilfried Hosl (earlier revival)
Così fan tutte
© Wilfried Hosl (earlier revival)

Conductor Jérémie Rhorer's interpretation of the score lacked overall wholesomeness and transitional tightness. A struggle between his musicians of the Bavarian State Orchestra and the drama on stage hampered numerous arias and ensembles, marked by a raggedy nervousness from the all-important chattering woodwind and brass. Moments of safety existed with the volume on high and some exemplary, fluent string playing. Finely crafted arias aside, inconsistencies infected and distracted from the vocal fabric during the many delicious permutations of duets, trios, etc. But, as if to leave the best impression on their audience, each of the concluding sextets to each of the two acts were as glittering as the theatre's heavyweight chandelier.

Gaëlle Arquez's Dorabella and Marina Rebeka's Fiordiligi were the exception. The onstage soprano sisters, whose fidelity to their fiancées is being put to the test, revelled in the music and measured their performances with palpable respect. Both shone brilliantly throughout to give depth to their characters, Rebeka in her emotionally charged vocal dynamism, Arquez in her more direct simple-hearted vocal sweetness. Così is both ingeniously and light-heartedly comic, yet to this day can stab conventional presumptions of conjugal commitments with confrontational unease. Though coercive in his ideas, the scheming Don Alfonso's declaration that "All women are like that" (in their straying fidelities) is really only his opinion even though he makes his point on this occasion, waging a bet with the the sisters' fiancées, Ferrando and Guglielmo, that twenty four hours is enough to prove him right. In the end, this is harmless theatre... or is it? That perhaps depends on the secrets and fears our audience member might harbour.

Director Dieter Dorn's vision pays rewarding dividends even though the drama unfurls with moments of plodding direction and some uncomfortable extended pauses which made this opening night feel especially embattled by hiccups. By means of a crisp, whitewashed, period aesthetic, set and costume designer Jürgen Rose and Max Keller's bright, truthful lighting doesn't entirely plonk us in a period 18th century past but cultivates a timeless, intellectual approach which adds immeasurably to the idea that this is simply something of a dressed-up theatrical spoof. Though originally premiering in the ornamental intimacy of the Cuvillies Theatre of the Residenz Palace, the production still feels suitably tuned to the voluminous Bavarian State Opera House.

Lawrence Brownlee's Ferrando and Gyula Orendt's Guglielmo come across as unlikely twins as they ham it up in disguises of exotically handsome Albanians as part of Don Alfonso's plan. Brownlee impressed with a warm, attractive and vibrato-rich tenor but lost vocal shape when stretched to the highest notes. Orendt's resonant, thrusting and broad-spectrum baritone finally emerged with the space he was given when his Guglielmo pranced to the front of the edge of the orchestra pit and accused the ladies of the audience in an especially engaging piece of super-realism during the aria “Donne mie, la fate a tanti” (My ladies, you do it to so many).

As the supercilious Don Alfonso, bass Luca Tittoto mustered outstanding adaptability in expression and smoothness in delivery right up to the syrupy lyricism of his uppermost range. Lured into the plot to unsaddle the myth of fidelity, the sisters' housemaid Despina was depicted by Tara Erraught as insightfully as her character with comic aplomb and a bright mezzo. In the end, while Mozart was seemingly short-changed, Don Alfonso won the wager, the boys and their fiancées' love was perilously tested, but the night's performance belonged entirely to the two repentant sisters.