Friday 1 June 2018

Comedy and pathos: Mozart's Cosi fan tutte at Opera Holland Park

Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Mozart Cosi fan tutte; Eleanor Dennis, Kitty Whately, Nick Pritchard, Nicholas Lester, Sarah Tynan, Peter Coleman-Wright, dir: Oliver Platt, City of London Sinfonia, cond: Dane Lam; Opera Holland Park
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 31 May 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Comedy and a serious message mix with 18th-century style

Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Kitty Whately, Eleanor Dennis - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Kitty Whately, Eleanor Dennis - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Having given us a stylish period production of Verdi's La traviata for the opening opera of the season [see my review], Opera Holland Park (OHP) continued to buck the trend with Oliver Platt's 18th-century-set production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, which opened on Thursday 31 May 2018. Eleanor Dennis and Kitty Whately were the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, with Nick Pritchard and Nicholas Lester as their lovers Ferrando and Guglielmo, plus Sarah Tynan as Despina and Peter Coleman-Wright as Don Alfonso. The production was designed by Alyson Cummings with lighting by Rory Beaton. Dane Lam conducted the City of London Sinfonia.

This production can be seen as one of the fruits of Opera Holland Park's support for young artists, as conductor Dane Lam, director Oliver Platt and tenor Nick Pritchard are all alumni of OHP's young artists scheme.

Dane Lam and Oliver Platt collaborated on last year's production of Don Giovanni [see my review], whilst that was given a 20th-century gloss, this new production of Cosi fan tutte was firmly 18th century. Alyson Cummings' basic set was a stage within a stage which formed the centre of all the action, a gentleman's outfitters for the opening scene and then the sisters' drawing room for the remainder of the action. But the set opened up so that for the later scenes it developed more into an orangerie. The wider OHP stage was used for the chorus scenes and set pieces, but some of the action spread out as well. However, it was clear that the aim was, sensibly, to keep the main performance within quite a tight area.

Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Nick Pritchard, Nicholas Lester - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Nick Pritchard, Nicholas Lester - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Whilst sets and costumes were 18th century (the men initially in almost comic formal wigs and then in swaggering 'Albanian' costume), this was no frigid re-creation and the characters within the frame were lively and accessible, with perhaps with a touch of modern manners too.

Platt brought out the comedy of the piece, this was at times a very funny performance but very much a comedy of character. Set pieces like the Act One finale's cod mesmerism were physical and funny, but we never went as far as a stylised Rossini-like finale and you were always aware of the individual characters, interacting and reacting. And of course, as the plot gets darker in Act Two, the sense of dramatic progression was natural without seeming a shock. The only major tweak to the action which Platt introduced was the ending, where the four lovers were each alone, relationships fractured - perhaps the only modern response to Mozart and Da Ponte's very 18th-century ending.

One of the notable things about the performance was the very finely balanced quartet of lovers, each singer had their own strengths but overall it was the way the four balanced and complemented each other which counted.

Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Sarah Tynan, Peter Coleman-Wright - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Sarah Tynan, Peter Coleman-Wright (Photo Robert Workman)
Eleanor Dennis and Kitty Whately were a very believable pair of sisters. Dennis' Fiordiligi creating a very sympathetically upright sister, whose morality had a very human edge to it and whose aria in the garden in Act Two was one of the highlights of the evening with Dennis singing with rare intensity, whilst her account of 'Come scoglio' in Act One was less hard-edged than usual, tinged with humour and humanity. Kitty Whately's delightful Dorabella was less determinedly flirty than usual, lively and curious but with a serious edge to her too. She captured the character's lively intelligence whilst singing with a lovely combination of warm creamy tone and line. One of the production's notable features was not to depict the characters in black and white, making the moral quagmire all the more believable. This meant that both Dennis and Whately brought a real depth of humanity to their performances, and you believed the way they were caught up in the moment.

Nick Pritchard and Nicholas Lester's first entrance in elaborate 18th-century outfits helped to emphasise the change when they re-appear as Albanians, the loosening of the physical stays being accompanied by the loosening of mental ones. The young men's wooing was full of little asides between the two, in a very believable way. Pritchard sang his opening aria, 'Un aura amorosa' with beautiful honeyed tone and throughout impressed with this beauty of line, but not at the expense of character and his relationship with Eleanor Dennis' Fiordiligi brought real intensity to the later scenes. Lester's easy baritone created a good humoured fluency to Guglielmo's music, with his relatively easy seduction of Kitty Whately's Dorabella.

Guiding all this was Sarah Tynan's sparky Despina. Older and more experienced, but not that old, Tynan was lively and interested, a little bit cynical but certainly not hard-bitten. She created a character which brought comedy to the mix and complemented the two sisters nicely. Peter Coleman-Wright's Don Alfonso was a bit of a manipulator and clearly a bit of a rough diamond. You wonder why the two young men go along with Don Alfonso's schemes, yet Coleman-Wright's strong sense of personality made the whole thing believable.

Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Kitty Whately, Nick Pritchard, Peter Coleman-Wright, Eleanor Dennis, Nicholas Lester - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Kitty Whately, Nick Pritchard, Peter Coleman-Wright, Eleanor Dennis, Nicholas Lester
Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
The auditorium at Opera Holland Park is not the most intimate space for Mozart opera. In the pit, Dane Lam encouraged the City of London Sinfonia's litheness of sound, with lively speeds and a sense of purpose. He kept this lively pulse throughout the opera, though never veering into the hard driven and I enjoyed the way he kept the music flowing, with some lovely individual instrumental moments from the orchestra. The comic ensembles really fizzed, whilst the serious elements had great poignancy.

This was a most enjoyable ensemble production, one which balanced comedy with a feeling for the underlying seriousness of the moral message of the piece.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Elegie: Rachmaninoff, a heart in exile, Lucy Parham & Henry Goodman (★★★★) - Cd review
  • Sparkling opener: Verdi's La traviata at Opera Holland Park (★★★★½) - Opera review
  • The Dark Lord's music (★★★½) - CD review
  • Worth seeking out: Verdi's La Traviata from Hampstead Garden Opera  - (★★★½) opera review
  • George Benjamin & Martin Crimp's Lessons in Love and Violence  (★★★★½) - Opera review
  • A heart in exile: pianist Lucy Parham talks about her latest composer portrait - interview
  • Prophetiae Sibyllarum:  Gallicantus (★★★★) - CD review
  • Interesting programmes, strange timing - homages to Lully and Louis Couperin  at London Festival of Baroque music (★★★★ / ★★★½) - concert review
  • Musical style is like a language: I chat to German composer Moritz Eggert  - Interview
  • Alan Rawsthorne - a portrait: Chamber music and woodwind concertos (★★★) - CD review
  • Unashamedly Romantic: Reynaldo Hahn chamber music from James Baillieu and friends (★★★★½) - CD review
  • Transcendent mysticism: Vaughan Williams' Mass from St John's College (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Te Deum: Purcell & Charpentier at Westminster Abbey for London Festival of Baroque Music (★★★★) - Concert review
  • All-star Orfeo - Iestyn Davies and Sophie Bevan at the London Festival of Baroque Music (★★★★)  - Concert review
  • Sonorous debut: Neil Ferris & Sonoro in Frank Martin & James MacMillan (★★★★) - CD review
  • Gilbert & Cellier: A work of real musical personality, The Mountebanks rediscovered  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Vivica Genaux & Sonia Prina recreate the music sung by two great castratos at the Wigmore Hall  (★★★★) - concert review
  • Home

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