Breezy student production puts the ‘fan’ in Mozart’s “Così fan tutte”

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Amid wind machines, blowing leaves, sexy corsets and campy sparkle, some stellar young performers take the spotlight in this whimsical version of Mozart’s beloved opera. ****

Review by Holly Champion

Image credit: Kit Yoon

Così’s basic plot is well known, but for this quirky Conservatorium ‘Opera School’ production, director Narelle Yeo has given it a few twists. Here, the young naval seamen Ferrando and Guglielmo (Christopher Bryg and Tristan Entwistle), along with Freudian psychoanalyst Don Alfonso (Associate Professor Michael Halliwell) all wager a very unethical bet on the fidelity of Fiordiligi and Dorabella, who are the boys’ girlfriends and also Alfonso’s patients. The young men pretend to set sail (with wind machines ‘blowing’ them away) to battle, but instead they disguise themselves as “Rio Tanto” mining magnates, and each tries to seduce their friend’s girlfriend. Eventually they succeed, and Alfonso wins the bet. The plot is revealed to the horrified girls, but in the end all is forgiven… though both girls now seem to be hankering after Guglielmo. (!)

The female singers in this production are double-cast: in Saturday’s opening matinée ‘A’ cast the soprano Jessie Wilson played Fiordiligi and mezzo Sarah Kemeny played Dorabella. These two give glowing, witty performances as the sisters, their luscious voices filling the Music Workshop auditorium and their equally luscious curves filling out Brendan Hay’s constrictive, sexualised neo-Victorian costumes.

The ‘A’ cast’s Deepka Ratra makes for a gloriously feisty Despina, with a light, seductively shimmering voice. Despite rumours of tonsillitis, the young baritone Entwistle was also in fine vocal form as Guglielmo. His gift for comedy was in full flight as he rendered the character as a swaggering, hip-thrusting lady-killer.

As a student production, some unevenness in quality is to be expected. There were several issues with spotlights, which will hopefully be corrected in the coming days. Of more concern for me was Bryg’s performance as Ferrando: he seemed quite uncomfortable in his role as the oppressed, rejected foil to Entwistle’s alpha-male Guglielmo. This discomfort (or was it première nerves?) seemed to result in some vocal tension, particularly in the upper register. I hope he will relax as the run progresses.

Under the baton of Dr Stephen Mould, the orchestra played with a breezy lightness that complemented Benjamin Brockman’s set and lighting design. I especially loved harpsichordist Jasmine Wei’s cheeky quotation from the famous Figaro overture.

Mould and Yeo’s imaginative and hilarious Così is a highly engaging way to catch some excellent young operatic talent. Bearing in mind that it is a student production, I give it four stars. ****

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Così fan tutte plays at the Conservatorium of Music’s Music Workshop until Saturday 15 October. Tickets from $30. Purchase tickets here.

‘A’ cast: 8 and 13 October

‘B’ cast: 11 and 15 October

 

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