Cosi fan tutte review: Women make the greatest impact in battle of the sexes

Nick Kimberley

Mozart’s Così fan tutte: farcical romp, misogynist diatribe, or shrewd enactment of the battle of the sexes? All of the above. A middle-aged philosopher (Don Alfonso) sets out to show his younger male friends Ferrando and Guglielmo that the sisters they love — Dorabella and Fiordiligi — cannot be relied upon to be faithful. As the title says, “That’s just the way women are.”

“Sexist rubbish,” you cry, but as the plot twists and turns, it becomes clear that Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte have their sights set equally on fickle women and foolish men. This may be one of the great comic operas, but in Jan Philipp Gloger’s Royal Opera production (first seen in 2016, here revived by Julia Burbach), no character emerges unscathed. There is always a sense of artifice within artifice: false prosceniums are raised and lowered with what threatens to become monotonous frequency, and although Alfonso remains in 18th-century garb, other characters slip in and out of period and modern dress, as if trying to figure out which disguise works best.

Among the challenging insights, there is also a sense of too many ideas crowding each other out. Only as the opera approaches its tangled ending do things truly make sense, but still Gloger can’t resist twisting the final moments to his own ends. Every step of the way, though, his singers give their all. As Alfonso, Thomas Allen shows he has lost none of his sense of sly comedy, but as Mozart probably intended, the women make the greatest impact. In Serena Gamberoni’s performance, the wily maid Despina, who knows that love is just a game, is brashly effervescent, in telling contrast to the two sisters, whose voices entwine with bewitching sensuality.

As Dorabella, Serena Malfi charts a precise route from timid self-righteousness to brazen ardour, while Salome Jicia’s Fiordiligi displays a marvellous sense of timing and style. Her voice, full of pent-up longing one moment, firm resolve the next, has a range and accuracy that are thrilling.

Until March 16 (020 7240 1200, roh.org.uk)