fri 05/06/2020

Così fan tutte, Grand Theatre, Leeds | reviews, news & interviews

Così fan tutte, Grand Theatre, Leeds

Così fan tutte, Grand Theatre, Leeds

Opera North excels in a crisp and imaginative revival

The film critic Mark Kermode maintains that if a film is advertised on the side of a bus, it will inevitably be rubbish. Opera North are advertising this revival of Tim Albery’s 2004 Così fan tutte extensively on the sides of buses here in Leeds. Kermode’s theorem evidently doesn’t hold for opera.

This production is an invigorating, life-enhancing evening which showcases all that Opera North excel at: it is visually imaginative, crisply sung and underpinned by marvellous orchestral playing. The witty English-language version (in an uncredited translation) is always audible. Conducting is by period specialist Andrew Parrott. Thus strings play with no vibrato, timpani are struck with hard sticks and the wind playing, so important in mature Mozart, is fabulous - gorgeous burbling bassoons and clarinets, and singing oboe solos.

In Tobias Hoheisel’s clever set design, Don Alfonso enters in front of a huge camera obscura which opens up to reveal a one-room set in which the characters are trapped like insects caught in a jam jar. Hoheisel’s costume designs cleverly track the progress of the drama: apparel becomes looser and more richly colourful as the quartet of lovers are ever more deeply entangled in the bet of Alfonso’s making, that every woman is unfaithful.

All except Geoffrey Dolton’s Alfonso, that is, who remains buttoned up throughout and, for all his charismatic charm, exuding a suitably unpleasant presence. The two pairs of lovers are a joy to watch. Despite Così’s ever ludicrous plot, Albery asks his audience to invest in them deeply with the help of realistic, non-posturing physical movement. Even the duller passages of Da Ponte’s recitative compel. Allan Clayton’s Ferrando and Quirijn de Lang’s Guglielmo share some great moments of physical comedy, notably when re-entering the room to meet their lovers disguised in robes, barefoot and sporting 1970s moustaches.

Best of all is Despina (a show-stealing Amy Freston) "curing" the men’s supposed arsenic poisoning - a feast of leg-twitching and trembling. Elizabeth Atherton as Fiordiligi and Victoria Simmonds as Dorabella complete the cast; well-matched vocally and credible as characters, and genuinely moving in their distress.  All in all, a welcome revival of a Così which pleasingly overrides operatic artifice.

  • In rep at the Grand Theatre until Oct 22, then on tour. Book online

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