Mozart’s Così fan tutte is a comic opera filled with deceit, disguises and betrayal, all carried along by a breathtaking score and witty lyrics. What better way to start ETO’s Spring 2013 season than with a new rendering of this timeless work, in a brilliantly clever English translation by Martin Fitzpatrick. The curtain rose to reveal a simple, minimalistic set, designed by Samal Blak, who is the combined set and costume designer for all three of ETO’s operas this season. Influenced by Fragonard’s painting The Swing, the whole set had a modern Garden of Eden feel, with cleverly designed asymmetric doors and windows which acted as entrances and exits, hiding places, and glimpses into the goings-on offstage as well as on, and this, combined with cleverly designed opaque screens, provided an intriguing backdrop for the frivolity to come.

The overture set the scene with a fantastically accomplished rendition of this virtuosic piece, especially from the wind section. Mozart’s score for Così is extremely clever, with endless musical references and jokes throughout. The overture, which he wrote last, gives the audience a little taste for things to come and sets the light-hearted feeling for the rest of the opera. The overture was semi-staged, with a game of hide and seek performed by the two pairs of lovers, dressed in period costume with a modern twist in pale creams and white to match the set.

The opera begins with a bet between the friends, Ferrando (Anthony Gregory) and Guglielmo (Toby Girling), and Don Alfonso (Richard Mosley-Evans) about the fidelity of their lovers, the sisters Fiordiligi (Laura Mitchell) and Dorabella (Kitty Whately). The older Don Alfonso warns them that women are never as pure as they claim to be and they decide to test their fiancées through a little game of disguises. Just as the sisters are talking about the perfection of their loved ones, Don Alfonso comes in to tell them that their men have been called to active service and are leaving for the army straight away. They are obviously devastated – and the melodramatic reaction of both Whately and Mitchell was completely suited to the tongue in cheek nature of the story – but their maid, Despina (Paula Sides) tells them that all is not lost and they should “play the field” in their fiancés’ absence. Sides was incredibly expressive, both vocally and physically; she had a wonderful dry humour matched with lovely variety of vocal colour, and tons of attitude to match the intentionally overdone melodrama of the young girls. There was also a refreshing depth to her character, who appeared to be rather bitter about her past – maybe she had been spurned herself? This was a lovely juxtaposition to the shallowness and vanity of the four main characters.

The ruse continues as Ferrando and Guglielmo reappear, now cunningly disguised as Don Alfonso’s “Albanian” friends, and they attempt to woo the sisters. At first they are impervious to the boys’ amorous (and again, comically over-the-top) advances, but one by one the sisters succumb and Don Alfonso has won his bet. The plot is of course uncovered at the end and the couples return to their original pairings and are happily married. There is a darker undertone here, however, as we never find out if all is truly forgiven and the purity of the original quartet seems somewhat tainted by the world at the close of the opera.

The joy of Mozart’s score, combined with the nature of the story, is the endless opportunity for clever ensemble writing, which can be seen in every combination throughout. The couples fall into the four main voices types – Mitchell’s high, flexible soprano contrasting with the fruitier, but nonetheless natural and appealing, mezzo-soprano register of Kitty Whately. Gregory’s high tenor was clear and easy, with fantastic diction, which was beautifully displayed in the second act with his lament of the loss of his love to Guglielmo. Girling and Mosley-Evans provided solid foundations, but very occasionally the tight timing and ensemble with the orchestra was lost. All the characters had impressively flowing and natural recitative technique, which was a joy to listen to. The pacing and characterisation was spot on and if tonight is anything to go by, this season is going to be a riot of fun for English Touring Opera.