The Royal Opera House must have been playing safe, staging Jonathan Miller's (not necessarily Mozart's) Così fan tutte to start the 2010/11 season. Maybe they needed something bland because the performance was broadcast live to cinemas all round the world, and mass audiences like that do not want anything demanding. Most of the senior people at ROH are off in Japan, where ROH is being welcomed enthusiastically. So maybe the season will come alive later.
Thomas Allen's a surefire crowd puller and Don Alfonso is a role he can do almost on autopilot. Suave, detached, golf swing, laidback, all part of the character. Rebecca Evans is brilliant though, fantastically vivid! Even with a mask over her face she can sing better than the rest of the cast put together, As a friend commented, Evans reminded her of Rita Streich. Serious praise, completely deserved. But Despina alone doesn't make the opera.
Jonathan Miller's set is a caricature, the sort of thing that gives modern opera a bad name. Minimalist sets aren't in themselves evil, if they're filled by intelligent drama. This one's an empty hole in the absence of focused direction. The less experienced the cast, the more important it is to treat each revival as if it were a new production.
This was great on cutesy jokes, but had nil to offer in terms of real wit and pacing. Miller was wildly applauded, which made me wonder - is this what people really want of Mozart and da Ponte? I suspect it was infinitely tighter on film.
Best thing about the evening - apart from the wonderful Rebecca Evans - was the conductor Thomas Hengelbrock. Based in Freiburg, he's been involved with some of the liveliest baroque ensembles, who prove that historically informed performance ius perfectly adaptable to modern staging. He conducts Niobe, Regina di Tebe next week, a work he passionately believes in.
Please read the full review in Opera Today, with photos.