Coinciding happily with the advent of regenerative spring is the appearance of green shoots in the performing arts – and in the vanguard is a collaborative staging of Mozart’s Così fan Tutte from Cape Town Opera and the UCT School of Opera. BEVERLEY BROMMERT speaks to director Steven Stead:

Stephen Stead on Così fan Tutte: Interview

The stellar team that delivered Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi last year is entrusted with this new production, which will run from the 28 to 31 October 2020 at the Baxter. Stead (pictured left), though overjoyed at the undertaking, does not minimize the challenges of rehearsing under Covid-19 restrictions, albeit milder than hitherto.

“The singers wear visors as well as masks when performing – which can interfere with their hearing. Everyone is screened and everything is rigorously sanitized after the slightest interpersonal contact … when not in action, each artist is confined to a demarcated square to ensure social distancing. All of which is extremely challenging, but we’re very grateful to be rehearsing at all. Fortunately, no masks or visors will be worn on stage when the opera is presented for public performance,” Stead  remarks.

He adds that “given the unpredictable nature of the virus, we not only have double casts for all parts, but also an understudy for everyone. As the venue (the Baxter Theatre) is fully booked after our production,  there is no possibility of any postponement due to infection. On the upside, there is a strong possibility we shall restage Così next year under more congenial circumstances”.

UK-based Stead has directed this opera no fewer than six times, but he says the current production will be his most memorable “as it has saved me from a very dark space.”

Stephen Stead on Così fan Tutte : Interview

Loss of innocence

He has aptly updated the 18th century masterpiece to the early 1900s, just before the global catastrophes of Spanish Flu and two consecutive world wars: “It suggests the loss of innocence in that age on the  cusp of modernization and a new world order,” he explains, his words eerily echoing the current cliché of “the new normal”.

He has taken the tonal ambiguity of the music as the springboard for this production, emphasizing the shift from delicious, mercurial fun to a sombre reflection on human frailty.

“Unlike I Capuleti …, dark and relentlessly melancholic  from beginning to end, Così…is full of colour and variety. The students bring extra zest, focus and commitment to their performance as they’ve been frustrated by 16 weeks of Covid-19 with nothing but online coaching to keep up their spirits and proficiency…”

It seems the winter of discontent for them, as well as for their opera-loving audiences, may finally be coming to an end.

What: Così fan Tutte

Where and when: Baxter Theatre from 28 to 31 October 2020

Book: Webtickets