The very act of going to an opera requires us to suspend disbelief, and not simply for the implausibility of so many plots. Stories such as that of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, though, with its idea that two sisters could be so easily duped into falling for their sibling’s lover merely through the agency of disguise, are certainly more unbelievable than most. For her new production of the opera at Maintheater Franken in Würzburg, Martina Veh abandons all pretence. Her Ferrando and Guglielmo simply change into different coloured T-shirts and shoes, and Fiordiligi and Dorabella are none the wiser. Similarly, Despina’s impersonations of doctor and notary are just as unlikely to deceive in any real-life situation – anyone can be suggestible to deception given the right circumstances, she seems to say.

Silke Evers (Fiordiligi), Taiyu Uchiyama (Don Alfonso) and Marzia Marzo (Dorabella) © Nik Schölzel
Silke Evers (Fiordiligi), Taiyu Uchiyama (Don Alfonso) and Marzia Marzo (Dorabella)
© Nik Schölzel

Veh is aided in her projection of the story by the design team from fettFilm (Momme Hinrichs and Torge Møller), who have created a staging based around white boxes and use animation to give touches of both realism and surrealism to the setting and the plot. Arias and ensembles are often illustrated or counterpointed on a screen at the back of the stage – a receding ship seen through binoculars during the trio “Soave sia il vento”, for instance, as the women and Don Alfonso wave goodbye to the departing soldiers. The animation also provides the scenery, with a garden full of suggestively shaped flowers and mushrooms during the seduction scenes. And the characters are represented on film, too, most ingeniously when the women try to choose their beau from life-sized, moving poses as they swipe left and right on a smartphone-shaped screen. Among other neat visual jokes is a tribute to the famous Buster Keaton falling wall when the women are first introduced in Act 1.

Marzia Marzo (Dorabella) and Daniel Fiolka (Guglielmo) © Nik Schölzel
Marzia Marzo (Dorabella) and Daniel Fiolka (Guglielmo)
© Nik Schölzel

The playful nature of the staging in general deflects from the plot’s inherent sexism – the men’s discussion of women’s infidelity is presented like a Powerpoint presentation, in effect ridiculing its premise. And despite the cartoon-like environs, the characters emerge as real people, with Mozart’s sublime music fleshing out the detail. Moreover, the very end, with the characters variously showing embarrassment, distress and bafflement as they realise what has been done to them, juxtaposed with the supposedly celebratory closing music, suddenly drew us to the ironic heart and rather unpleasant premise of the whole story.

Roberto Ortiz (Ferrando) and Silke Evers (Fiordiligi) © Nik Schölzel
Roberto Ortiz (Ferrando) and Silke Evers (Fiordiligi)
© Nik Schölzel

With only six characters, Così is an opera any self-respecting company should be able to cast from within its own ranks, and the Maintheater Franken has done just that, with all singers coming from the Würzburg ensemble. Silke Evers (Fiordiligi) and Marzia Marzo (Dorabella) made a well-matched pair of sisters and both offered good vocal depth. If Roberto Ortiz’s light-voiced Ferrando felt a little pale at times, he pulled his weight in the ensembles and his stage presence was always vivid and a good foil for the burly Guglielmo of Daniel Fiolka, whose tone was focused and warm. Akiho Tsujii’s agile and communicative Despina went down a storm with the first-night audience and Taiyu Uchiyama made for an unusually young and boisterous Don Alfonso – not so much the ‘old philosopher’ as Ferrando and Guglielmo’s drinking buddy, prompted by mischief to set his wager, and played like a cross between Don Giovanni and (Rossini’s) Figaro.

Marzia Marzo (Dorabella) and Silke Evers (Fiordiligi) © Nik Schölzel
Marzia Marzo (Dorabella) and Silke Evers (Fiordiligi)
© Nik Schölzel

There were occasions when one sensed that the cast still had a few timing issues to iron out, largely a question of picking up the recitative after applause, which only this first proper exposure to a live audience will have tested – and this first night audience was enthusiastic in its appreciation of virtually every aria and ensemble. The sometimes creaking mechanics of the moving stage sounded as if they could benefit from a bit of oil, too.

Needing no such lubrication was the direction of Mozart’s opera buffa from the pit. Enrico Calesso, the Maintheater’s general music director, led a sleek, lively performance, with suave playing from the Philharmonisches Orchester Würzburg that in its eschewing of heavy vibrato paid heed to period style without losing warmth. Silvia Vassallo Paleologo’s continuo on Hammerklavier also deserves a mention for its style and inventiveness.