This production by Phelim McDermott was first seen at the ENO in 2004 and this is its first revival, but I am delighted to report that it is as hilarious as it was before.
Tampering with Mozart is something I am inherently opposed to, but McDermott’s outrageous idea of incorporating a circus troupe, including acrobats, a fire-eater and two dwarfs into the action and setting the whole thing in a 1950s Coney Island amusement park wonderfully enhances the ludicrous nature of the comedy.
The plot concerns a wager made by Don Alfonso with his two friends Guglielmo and Ferrando that he can prove they cannot trust their fiancées to be faithful. The young men confidently accept the bet and agree to do everything Don Alfonso tells them for 24 hours.
With the aid of his servant Despina, here portrayed as a chalet attendant, Don Alfonso sets up a seduction of the women by the two men in disguise, each with the other one’s fiancée.
The dubious morality of the story led to this opera being shunned in the 19th century, but as the world grew less prudish, it came to be accepted as one of Mozart’s true masterpieces. The music is glorious, the production is hilarious, and the translation into English by Jeremy Sams is superb. Translating opera from Italian is a difficult business.
Quite apart from getting the words to fit the music, the natural rhythms of the English language are not those of the original and often sound awkward.
Sams takes the opportunity to re-write the libretto when necessary, not only making his words fit the music but even achieving the near impossible feat of making it all sound completely natural as though it were all written in English in the first place.
This approach adds the opportunity to update the libretto and to make it even funnier and Sams does this brilliantly.
The young cast were excellent with glorious singing from soprano Nardus Williams as Fiordiligi, while Hanna Hipp as Dorabella seemed to grow in confidence as the opera progressed and in the second half especially gave a wonderful performance.
Neal Davies portrayed Don Alfonso as a splendidly sleazy character in place of the usual suaveness given to the role, but the most memorable moment, as it was eight years ago, came when Despina, played with impressive and infectious humour throughout by Soraya Mafi, performed a cowboy dance with the two dwarfs while singing a Mozart aria.
The ENO is trying to bring opera to a larger and younger audience. This is exactly the sort of production that will do it.
Huge congratulations to all involved on a great evening’s entertainment.
- Box Office: 020 7845 9300 or www.eno.org (various dates until 22 March).
- Some free tickets for under-21s. See eno.org/under35s for details of this and other reductions.