‘What men call gallantry, and gods adultery’, Byron claimed, ‘Is much more common where the climate’s sultry’. On that basis, audiences for Opera Queensland’s new production of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte will undoubtedly swell as the company tours north to Cairns.

Cosi’s story line is as fast and fluffy as any in the repertoire. One man bets two others that their sweethearts will prove inconstant. The pair pretend to go to war only to turn up minutes later as Albanians to court each other’s girlfriends. Three hours later, after the best of nonsense, there are four sadder and wiser lovers – but are they reunited in their original couplings, or as a menage a quatre? Not surprisingly, the subtitle is The School for lovers, another instance of the Enlightenment as philosophy in the boudoir.

Feminists bristle at the title motto: ‘They’re all the same’ (Cosi fan tutte), that is, women are fickle. In the nineteenth century, Cosi was condemned for this immorality and neglected because of the complexity of its music.

Sue Rider, Brisbane’s leading theatre director, was brought in to attract a younger audience to mount her first opera. The inventiveness of her stage business has achieved an interpretation as insightful as it is pleasurable. Details with parasols and lengths of fabric were apt and never over-worked. In leaning towards frivolity more than any morality, Rider has found room for every kind of humour,  

The clarity of sets from designer Christopher Smith was matched by lighting, as colourful as the score, from Matt Scott, who followed the mood changes, not the sun. The consolidation of companies being pushed by the Nugent Report will deprive our theatre of the opportunities for these talents to develop.

Conducting the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Christie, from Operahaus Zurich, displayed the richnesses of Mozart’s writing until the ladies were seduced by the winds and horns more than by their blokes. Christie’s musicianship challenged the cast while aiding them across fiendish arias to the glorious ensembles.

Leanne Kenneally, as Fiordiligi, is happiest in her middle range, so that she almost spoke the contralto segments, yet never failed to convince that her emotions were fully engaged, a precise contrast to her sister, Dorabella, sung by Donna Balson, who parodied grief from opera seria to inscribe coquettishness. Rosina Waugh’s Despina avoided slapstick impersonations in favour of the quick wittedness of a maid of all work.

If Timothy du Fure’s Don Alfonso observed the music’s bitter touches his manipulation would be as convincing as his presence is commanding. Jason Barry-Smith livened his Guglielmo with secure singing and a powerful dash of acting. The Ferrando from Spencer Silby-Ainu’utuimaseve hit most of the high notes and displayed a superb sotto voce. Outside that compass, he sounded as if he had taught himself to sing from imitating unremastered 78s.

Opera Queensland’s use of Brisbane’s 800-seat Conservatorium theatre slashes venue costs, benefits from a fine acoustic, and allows the publicity department to boast of a sell-out, a promotional tag thoroughly merited.

Humphrey McQueen