sat 02/03/2024

Così fan tutte, Opera North review - a safe bet | reviews, news & interviews

Così fan tutte, Opera North review - a safe bet

Così fan tutte, Opera North review - a safe bet

Voices and personalities in balance and contrast in revived Albery production

Quod erat demonstrandum: Henry Neill as Guglielmo, Heather Lowe as Dorabella, Gillene Butterfield as Despina, Alexandra Lowe as Fiordiligi and Anthony Gregory as Ferrando in Opera North’s production of Mozart’s Così fan tutteJames Glossop

Reviving Tim Albery’s production of Così fan tutte, now almost 20 years old, again at Leeds Grand Theatre, Opera North have a bet that’s as safe as Don Alfonso’s in the story – that “Women are all the same”. It’s a sure-fire winner, and the best part this time round lies in the balance and contrast of both voices and personalities in the casting of the central pairs of lovers.

Albery sees the piece as a kind of Enlightenment-era scientific demonstration, in which truth is to be revealed by an unblinking camera lens. Almost all the action takes place inside a giant “camera obscura”, as we see the two sisters in love with two brothers and the bet the lads make with the older (and more cynical) philosopher, Don Alfonso, as to whether their girls’ fidelity will last even a day once they are on their own and tempted by “lovers” (their opposite numbers in disguise). Despina, the amoral ladies’ maid, helps make the test become reality.

Quirijn de Lang as Don Alfonso in Opera North's production of Mozart’s Così fan tutteThe outcome is never in doubt, and maybe it’s a sad and misogynistic story. But the guys are equally duplicitous, as it turns out, and pretty vain with it. The opera has no real place – ostensibly Naples, it could be anywhere with a sea-port – and the boys disguise themselves as “Albanians” in the original, which means men from somewhere just exotic enough to give them a touch of romance. Albery’s idea takes away even the backgrounds of seaside and gardens, but he keeps the timeframe strictly in Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte’s period. The girls’ costumes gradually change, in line with their morals, as the story proceeds, to match the growth of individuality in the characters (design by Tobias Hoheisel).

It’s one of the few productions from Opera North seen these days which are sung in English. That’s a good idea (the compact and clever text is an entertainment in itself), but it’s also good that this time it was also projected on side-screens – previously some of the jokes have been lost as overlapping words in ensembles are always difficult to follow.

It all begins with Don Alfonso (Quirijn De Lang, pictured above right) on the stage at the start of the overture, be-gowned as if about to impart instruction (the piece is sub-titled “The School for Lovers”, after all). Dumb-show during the overture is almost conventional these days, but it doesn’t need to last long and once the tempo picks up he disappears and leaves it to Mozart to brighten the mood. Clemens Schuldt conducts with assured grace and constant vitality: he looks after his singers and obtains moments of great beauty from the orchestra.

Heather Lowe as Dorabella and Alexandra Lowe as Fiordiligi in Opera North’s production of Mozart’s Così fan tutteAnd the central pairs of young lovers are believably youthful. Alexandra Lowe (Fiordiligi) and Heather Lowe (Dorabella), as the two sisters (pictured left) may share a surname but are not sisters in real life – they do however share the training of the Royal Northern College of Music in their backgrounds, and their vocal mastery and ability to impart character are equally apparent.

The virtue of their casting here is that each one’s vocal tone is quite distinct and yet complementary, and they play their parts as distinct and balancing personalities, too. Alexandra Lowe makes Fiordiligi – a role she sang at the RNCM as a student – a genuine innocent with purest, glowing sound to match, and when her fall from grace comes we experience it with her.

Heather Lowe is more sensual from the start (she makes something noticeable of her line about Ferrando – her original lover – being “possessive”), and there’s no doubt she’s up for flirting with someone else with relatively little encouragement. Indeed her scene with Guglielmo begins to seem as if they both know exactly what they’re up to and are enjoying the play-acting.

Anthony Gregory (Ferrando) is an English tenor of mellow, refined English tone and joins in the fun very well, albeit with a straight face. Henry Neill (who made an impression as the marrying Figaro at Clonter Opera a few years ago) is a more earthy and knowing Guglielmo – but still capable of a telling burst of emotion at the thought of his lover’s betrayal.

Gillene Butterfield enjoys herself as the sparky maid Despina, showing great comic timing and making the most of her “Any girl 15 or over …”.

And Quirijn De Lang maintains his air of gentle superiority, educating the youngsters in their relationship studies – and winning his bet, too.

  • Further performances on 10, 14, 16, 21 and 23 Feb in Leeds, and 7 and 9 March in Nottingham, 14 and 16 March in Newcastle, 21 and 23 March in Salford, and 4 and 6 April in Hull
Clemens Schuldt conducts with assured grace and constant vitality: he looks after his singers and obtains moments of great beauty from the orchestra

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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