Modernisations are always tricky. Taking a show out of its original time frame can remove vital elements of context and certain aspects of the plot may not make sense in the new setting. Likewise, translations can also prove problematic. Finding the right words to capture the exact sense and meaning originally intended is always difficult. Opera’r Ddraig’s production of ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ is both a modernisation and a translation, but fortunately it is well done, and, for the most part, the show benefits from these changes.
‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ is the story of two men Ferrando (Ben Thapa) and Robert Garland (Guglielmo) who are in love with two women Fiordiligi (Alexandra Cowell) and Dorabella (Melanie Long) whom the men feel are completely constant. They make the unfortunate mistake of bragging about the women’s constancy to their friend, Don Alfonso (Tom Colwell). Don Alfonso bets the men that within one day he can prove that the women are unfaithful and recruits Despina (Francesca Aquilina) to help him win the bet.
In the original Italian production the action occurs largely in the women’s home. In order to set the stage for the bet, the men pretended to march off to war, and then disguise themselves as two Albanians to try to lure the girls into being unfaithful. In this modernised version the show takes place in a coffee shop, involves much Facebooking and Tweeting, and the men go off to an occupy movement, not to war.
Within this production certain aspects of the show are lost, but some new facets emerge. The Facebook and Twitter references, as well as the coffee shop setting provide for many humorous moments that simply don’t exist in the older show, or would escape current audiences. However, this re-write also means that certain parts of the show simply do not make sense. Why sing, for example, an entire melodramatic song about how the men may be injured or die if they are simply going off to the occupy movement? It makes sense if they are going off to war, but, in general, the occupy protests did not result in very many fatalities.
By far the strength of this production lies (as it should) in the music. All members of the cast are accomplished vocalists, with powerful voices well able to project out into the audience. They navigate with apparent ease through the complex operatic melodies, performing strong solos, but truly shining while harmonising duets, or performing as a full ensemble. The role of symphony orchestra is also very skillfully filled by one pianist, Seho Lee. The only problematic element to the musical performance is that occasionally the piano, attached to speakers, overshadows the vocalists.
Translating an opera into a modern english pared-down performance of an hour and a half is not an easy thing to do. Yet in ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ Opera’r Ddraig has proved up to the task, and has created a funny, accomplished, and enjoyable performance.