The Nederlandse Reisopera is touring theatres in the Netherlands with their new production of Così fan tutte. During the première at the Carré Theatre in Amsterdam, the team of young soloists and the Orkest van het Oosten conducted by Arnaud Oosterbaum gave a musically rewarding performance that greatly compensated for the unconvincing stage direction of Xander Straat.

Reisopera's <i>Così fan tutte</i> © Marco Borggreve | Nederlandse Reisopera
Reisopera's Così fan tutte
© Marco Borggreve | Nederlandse Reisopera
In the program notes, Mr Straat explains that he wanted to stage Mozart and Da Ponte’s tale of fickleness, deceit and seduction as some kind of game that all the protagonists, including Fiordiligi and Dorabella, enter knowingly and willingly. An interesting idea perhaps but the execution unfortunately leaves this rather bold choice very unclear throughout the performance. The staging seems to hesitate between various directions without its eclectic parts ever becoming a whole.

The sets by Marc Warning are an abstract mess of blocks of polystyrene, plastic foil and hanging red ropes that clutter the stage more and more as the story advances – presumably to mirror the characters’ increasingly complex emotions. Costumes by Elena Werner have a decidedly modern touch – Ferrando and Guglielmo do not dress up as Albanian noblemen, but as bearded hipsters with tattooed upper bodies. An added introduction, prior to the overture, with Mozart (actor Floyd Koster) dressed in a “TEDx Salzburg” t-shirt giving a TED-talk explaining the 18th century context, and attempting to excuse the sexist tone of the work feels rather gimmicky. If an excuse really needed to be found, it would certainly be in the glorious music Mozart wrote for Fiordiligi and Dorabella, which shows the composer’s unconditional affection for his female characters, placing them de facto in the lead roles.

Yaroslaw Abaimov (Ferrando), Robert Davies (Don Alfonso) and Nicholas Crawley (Guglielmo) © Marco Borggreve | Nederlandse Reisopera
Yaroslaw Abaimov (Ferrando), Robert Davies (Don Alfonso) and Nicholas Crawley (Guglielmo)
© Marco Borggreve | Nederlandse Reisopera

Fortunately, musically, things were considerably more rewarding. Conductor Arnaud Oosterbaan led the orchestra in a dynamic performance, with well-judged tempi. The Orkest van het Oosten’s woodwinds especially sounded pleasantly heady. There was a small surprise thrown in too, with Guglielmo getting to sing the rarely-performed alternative aria “Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo”.

Most enjoyable of all was the performance by the team of young singers gathered for this production. I use “performance” in its singular form, rather than plural, on purpose, because, although I certainly do not mean to undermine each soloist’s individual achievement, it was one of those occasions when the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. And this is certainly a good thing too in Così fan tutte, since this opera is loaded with exquisite ensemble parts, duets, trios and quintets, that often outshine the relatively few and far-apart arias. On Friday, I found the renditions of the terzettino “Soave via il vento” in Act I and the Act II duet between Guglielmo and Dorabella “Il core vi dono” especially delightful.

Anna Traub (Dorabella) and Shantelle Przybylo (Fiordiligi) © Marco Borggreve | Nederlandse Reisopera
Anna Traub (Dorabella) and Shantelle Przybylo (Fiordiligi)
© Marco Borggreve | Nederlandse Reisopera

All of the six soloists combined both commanding stage presence and stylish singing. I particularly liked that this homogeneously young-sounding team boasted exciting, strong contrasts in timbres. Anna Traub’s dark-coloured mezzo (Dorabella) was a perfect foil for Shantelle Przybylo’s spicy soprano (Fiordiligi), as was Nicholas Crawley’s deep and handsome bass-baritone (Guglielmo) for Yaroslav Abaimov attractive clear lyric tenor (Ferrando). Robert Davies was a seductive, even-toned Don Alfonso and Nina Lejderman’s clear light soprano suited her more fun-loving than cynical Despina.

***11