Egor Zhuravskii as Ferrando, Sophie Bevan as Fiordiligi, Kayleigh Decker as Dorabella and James Atkinson as Guglielmo. Pictures: Elliott Franks

Così Fan Tutte

Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome


Così Fan Tutte has the alternative title of a School for Lovers - so why not? Women Are Like That becomes more Sixth Form Girls Are Like That as Welsh National Opera turn Mozart’s comic opera into quite literally a school production.

The setting is the gym, come school canteen, come assembly hall, come human biology lab of some little-known comp nestled somewhere in the valleys in the Italian speaking end of South Wales.

The human biology bit being an ever present with large anatomical illustrations of reproductive organs, from ovaries on one side to dangly bits on the other, and for those from more sheltered backgrounds, we had birds and bees, and for the more religious, serpents and apples. All in all a vas deferens from the norm. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that).

And it worked. The opera slips into the school timetable like a double period of music, after all the opera is merely about two young men convinced their two girlfriends will be faithful come what may, and where do most people gain life’s own version of a GCSE in love studies, but school.

We open with teacher Don Alfonso, sung in a it's your own time you're wasting efficiency by Stephen Wells, deciding to educate his pupils, and Ferrando, in the ways of the world and in particular the fickle nature of the opposite sex.

Thus a wager is agreed and a plot hatched to prove sir’s theory that the boy’s lovers, Dorabella and Fiordiligi, far from being paragons of fidelity will go into the wild oats business if their true loves become unavailable. The boys believe their lovers will remain true, Don Alfonso, with the crutch of experience to lean on, has a less than complimentary view of the fairer sex.

So let battle, or at least subterfuge, commence as our boys are supposedly called up to head off to war with the navy and reappear disguised as . . . flower power, hippies – like, peace, like, man.

Took me back to my days of kaftans, bell bottoms and fringed boots, almost expected an aromatic hint of Moroccan Gold to drift by on the breeze . . .meanwhile back to Mozart with our confident schoolboys disguised as disciples of peace and free love, doing their best to seduce their partner’s lovers.


Rebecca Evans as Despina

Baritone James Atkinson as Guglielmo and Russian-Ukrainian tenor Egor Zhuravskii as Ferrando are effective first as short-panted schoolboys and then really could fit into a 1960’s love in, all they needed was flowers in their hair.

They brought out the humour in their roles splendidly and in solos both showed fine voices and wonderful control and sang beautifully together, or in emotionally charged solos.

When it comes to control though leading soprano Sophie Bevan as Fiordiligi is right up there among the top of her profession, with an amazing clear voice with perfect control especially singing at low volume levels where clarity and quality can be more difficult to maintain.

She is matched by rising star Kayleigh Decker as Dorabella. The American mezzo-soprano has the sort of voice you could never tire of listening to, velvet smooth and as clear and perfect as Stourbridge crystal.

The four main characters are a delight both musically and as a comedy quartet with wonderful little touches to add a smile or chuckle in every scene.

When it came to scenes though soprano Rebecca Evans from Pontrhydyfen in the Afan Valley in South Wales, pretty much steals every one she appears in with a glorious mastery of comedy as dinner lady, come cleaner, Despina . . . and the doctor . . . and the notary, each with a different voice and the lightest of comedy touches.

Around them is the wonderful WNO chorus, given a bit more character to play with in this performance, a few appearing as teachers but most as schoolchildren with some straight from rugby in mud splattered shirts, girls from hockey pitch and then pupils in shorts and blazers, doing what children let loose do, we even get little squabbles and messing about in the wedding scene.

Yes, there is a wedding, except it is not a real one, and . . . everybody lives happy ever after at the end, which is all you need to know.

The wonderful Mozart score played with the excellence we have come to expect from the Welsh National Opera orchestra under conductor Tomáš Hanus is as light as the story while Jemima Robinson’s design is deceptively simple with video projections adding to interest and a sliding blackboard opening on the canteen hatch.

This is a new production, directed  Max Hoehn, and takes this Mozart’s 1790 classic in a new, modern direction, keeping the age old tale of trust and fidelity and the well-known score intact in a fun setting which will be more familiar to audiences today. An old tale in a new telling.

Roger Clarke


Sadly this is the only performance in Birmingham, a result of WNO losing 35 per cent of its Arts Council funding, £2.2 million, with four and five night visits to Birmingham reduced to two and visits to Liverpool now lost completely. And this was cuts to a company working hard to involve children and the wider community in both opera and music.

The funding cuts also forced the closure of the only theatre in my home town of Oldham by removing its entire funding. 

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