Mostly Mozart 08 – Garsington Opera’s Così fan tutte

Così fan tutte – Dramma giocoso in two acts to a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte [concert-staging based on Garsington Opera’s 2004 production by John Cox; sung in Italian]

Fiordiligi – Erica Eloff
Dorabella – Anna Stéphany
Guglielmo – D’Arcy Bleiker
Ferrando – Ashley Catling
Despina – Teuta Koço
Don Alfonso – Riccardo Novaro

Garsington Opera Chorus – Susan Boyd, Amy Carson, Anna Graca, Elinor Moran, Elisabeth Oye, Stella Woodman, Humphrey Berney, Robert Gildon, Julian Guidera, Charlie Rice, Ben Thapa & Alex Vearey-Roberts

Garsington Opera Orchestra [Jane Fenton – cello continuo]
Steuart Bedford [fortepiano continuo]

Frederic Wake-Walker – Director
Robert Perdziola – Designer
Jane Dutton – Lighting
Jonathan Burton & Kenneth Chalmers – English surtitles

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 11 July, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Hot from performances at the open-air Garsington Opera, which is held each summer just outside Oxford, Mozart’s comic-opera “Così fan tutte” came to the Barbican Centre’s “Mostly Mozart” season.

Productions are tailor-made for the romantic atmosphere of the gardens of the Jacobean country house to the extent that transferring them to the concert-hall loses the Garsington ambience. That said, however, this concert-staging worked very well with the 32-piece orchestra visible and the principals playing out the action in costume and with props such as chairs and plants. Frederic Wake-Walker made a good job of adapting John Cox’s 2004 production. The setting is updated to 1914, a time when many young men were off to war.

One plus-point in seeing the piece here is the acoustic of the Barbican Hall itself in which Mozart’s music resonates well, and the singers can all be heard clearly (apart from one point when Despina appears in the guise of a notary and what she was singing was lost in space). Steuart Bedford, who also played the fortepiano continuo, kept the Garsington Opera Orchestra playing deftly with the lightest of touches and a spring in its step.

Erica Eloff Vocally there were high points scored, all four principals striking home with some excellent singing. Erica Eloff, as Fiordiligi, sustained ‘Per pieta’ aria with apparent ease, while Anna Stéphany’s ‘E amore un ladroncello’ showed real quality. The two sisters are, however, a little on the solemn side in this production and rarely show the skittish nature that young girls like these would have. They seem a little too mature for the roles, whereas they ought to be more like Cecily and Gwendolen in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”. Even though they capitulate into the arms of their opposite numbers, Guglielmo and Ferrando, pretending to be soldiers and sailors, they seem to take their time about it.

Ashley CatlingIf the girls are too serious, then Ashley Catling as Ferrando and D’Arcy Bleiker as Guglielmo, good singers both, were over-farcical: too much hysterical mugging, fooling around and falling about to make these performances ring true. Acting comedy in opera is not easy but subtlety is still required to make it completely real. Teuta Koço’s Despina sang well but did not seem as calculating as the character should be. Riccardo Novaro, who has a powerful voice and presence, was too unyielding as Don Alfonso: yes, he is a devil whose only aim is to win his bet, but he’s still a human being.

The staging lacked the vital spark that would raise it from the mundane to a higher level where we can really care for this quartet of lovers and also be entertained. It’s a difficult task because ‘Così’ is probably the hardest Mozart opera to get right – and this Barbican Hall staging missed hitting the bullseye.

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