If you tempt your girlfriend to cheat on you, are you not as guilty as she is if she strays? In the golden age of reality TV no producer will lose any sleep over this ethical dilemma. The two pairs of naïve lovers in Mozart’s Così fan tutte (All women are like that) would make prime reality show participants, and Mozart’s audiences would probably have relished watching the televised entrapment of two women by their cocky boyfriends. In the 19th century, Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto was considered too racy and was repeatedly rewritten and buttoned up. The plot overstretches the imagination of modern audiences – the sisters get up close and personal with each other’s boyfriends but fail to recognise them and agree to marry two strangers they have just met ­– but the gorgeous music and brisk libretto remain irresistible. Unlikely plot aside, the work is essentially about self-assured young people discovering that you meddle with libidinal forces at your own peril.

Lenneke Ruiten © Victor Thomas
Lenneke Ruiten
© Victor Thomas

Simple but suggestive costumes (by Ysbrant and Elianne van Dorp) and a few props is all Jeroen Lopes Cardozo needed to direct an effervescent semi-staged Così fan tutte. He concentrated most of the action around the cleverly paced recitatives and minimised movement during the arias and ensembles, fully trusting in the communicative powers of the music and the singers. The theatrically strong cast executed his ideas superbly. As Don Alfonso, the cynical mastermind of the fidelity test, Frans Fiselier wore a long white coat, a reminder that this is a real-life experiment. Moving with supreme control and delivering deadpan recitative on target, Mr Fiselier skillfully plied his slender baritone to create an intriguing portrait of elegant malevolence. As his assistant in duplicity, the maid Despina, an engaging Ilse Eerens sashayed pertly, all smiles and crackling efficiency. Ms Eerens’ fragile soprano was most pleasing in the ensembles. She darkened her voice effectively for her first disguise as the doctor, striking the right balance between comedy and credibility, and was equally enjoyable as the tremulous, short-sighted notary.

The four lovers were believably young both in appearance and vocal timbre. Anders Dahlin’s sweet, focused tenor was just right for Ferrando’s youthful ardour. One wished for more languorously drawn phrases in “Un’aura amorosa” (A loving breath), but “Tradito, schernito” (Betrayed, scorned) and the recitative preceding it showcased his intense vocal and textual expressiveness. Baritone André Morsch as Guglielmo deployed his beautiful, downy voice understatedly throughout Act I, then stormed the stage in Act II to sing “Donne mie, la fate a tanti” (Ladies, you treat so many like this) with stylish vocal flourish.

Girlishly prim in pearls and petticoats, Lenneke Ruiten and Rosanne van Sandwijk were enchanting as, respectively, Fiordiligi and the less serious-minded Dorabella. Ms Van Sandwijk has a honey-toned, evenly-produced mezzo-soprano. A little daring with the text could have infused her arias with more of the playfulness of her acting, but she was most satisfying in her duets with Ms Ruiten and the trio “Soave sia il vento” (May the breeze be gentle). Soprano Lenneke Ruiten was a sensational Fiordiligi. She is a complete performer, her every gesture and musical phrase inherent to her portrayal of the character. You could practically see her crisp, cotton-clad propriety crinkle and wilt as the evening wore on. Her voice has an achingly rich middle and the top blooms and rings out radiantly. Her faultless coloratura in the vertiginous “Come scoglio” (Like a rock) would have been the technical stunner of the evening, were it not for the even more stunning ascending trills at the end of a stirring “Per pietà, ben mio, perdona” (Please, my love, forgive).

The joyful collaboration between the singers and the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, with sterling choral work by Cappella Amsterdam, was palpable throughout. Maestro Spanjaard, always sensitive to the singers’ phrasing, gave a finely layered interpretation of the score that brought out its darker undertones, full of unexpected rhythmic and dynamic touches. The forward propulsion and tight-reined sweep of the big ensembles made them performance highlights, not least because the solo voices, similar in weight, sounded blissfully balanced. The virtuosic period woodwinds throbbed with a warm glow, underlining the simmering eroticism of the piece, while an audacious, sometimes wilful, brass section snorted at the lovers’ viridity. In the finale the roiling strings left no doubt as to the emotional shambles they end up in, in spite of their reconciliatory words.

After its celebrated principal conductor and co-founder, Frans Brüggen, sadly passed away earlier this month, the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century announced its continued existence for at least another three years, discarding its original plan to disband. On hearing this scintillating Così one hopes that the orchestra keeps performing indefinitely, adding more full-length operas to its repertoire.