This is an amusing and well-structured production, harnessing local talent who do well in the challenging roles.
A reworking of director Sue Rider’s Cosi presented by Opera Queensland in 2000, the opera is a perfect fit for the intimate Conservatorium Theatre.
Staging under the direction of David Berthold is top-class, the characters interacting in believable ways while making the most of their space.
The action takes place in a walled garden, with subtle representational touches (designed by Christopher Smith), beautifully lit by David Walters. His deep purples are a wonder to behold.
Conductor Stephen Mould brings a crystal clear sound from the sub-set of the Queensland Orchestra in a theatre renowned for its acoustics. Perhaps at times some of the brass break rank, and lower strings can overdominate, but in all the balance is right, with Mould providing that great classic sound with the harpsichord continuo.
Leanne Kenneally, who impressed as the Countess at her last Mozart outing for OQ in 2005, also sang Fiordiligi here in 2000. She again offers a richly varied performance, with impressive coloratura singing. Her first aria, “Come scoglio” (“Like a rock”) is a real treat.
Zoe Taylor as her character sister Dorabella is understandably somewhat overshadowed by Kenneally, but sings sweetly and contributes well to the many lovely ensemble pieces.
Virgilio Marino’s light tenor voice is perfect for the role of Guglielmo. He offers a touching rendition of the difficult “Un’aura amorosa” (“A loving breath”), surely Mozart’s most beautiful aria for tenor. Similarly, baritone Shaun Brown does well in the role of fellow wooer Ferrando, as does Stephen Bennett as their puppet-master Don Alfonso.
A deliciously rounded sound comes from Emily Burke as the maid Despina, who carries off her principal and disguised roles with equal elan.
Some of the singers struggle a little with aspects of Mozart’s music in solo roles, but ensemble work is pleasing and harmonious. The chorus has been dropped in this production, which is a pity, for although their part is small, it would have given a few more of OQ’s talented troupe a moment in the limelight.
The acting under Berthold’s direction is of excellent quality, and the comedy capers work well. Especially memorable are the convulsions as Despina employs her large magnet to cure the pretend victims of arsenic. The acting as well as librettist da Ponte’s clever words (surtitled well by Narelle French) provoke many laughs from the audience. The gaudy stereotypal Albanian costumes of the young men are splendid, representing west European fantasies about the strange beings who inhabit the inland eastern regions.
Cosi ends as a rather sad “opera buffa”, with characters awakening to their loss of innocence. They see that they have tested their high principles a little too far, and nothing can be the same again. The production evokes this realisation in a touching and satisfying way.
One final comment: it’s a mystery why some operas are known by their English titles (Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute) while others keep their original labels (Il trovatore, Il seraglio). One wonders if marketing of Cosi, particularly to younger audiences, could be enhanced with a sexy translation of the title such as “Women are like that”, or “That’s what women do”.