Monday 17 August 2020

Opera returns: Mozart's Cosi fan tutte and Jonathan Dove's Ariel at Waterperry Opera Festival

Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Zoe Drummond, Damian Arnold, Nicholas Morton - Waterperry Opera Festival
Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Zoe Drummond, Damian Arnold, Nicholas Morton - Waterperry Opera Festival
Mozart Cosi fan tutte, Jonathan Dove Ariel; Isabelle Peters, Beth Moxon, Zoe Drummond, Damian Arnold, Nicholas Morton and Oskar McCarthy, Daniella Sicari, Guy Withers, Rebecca Meltzer, Bertie Baigent; Waterperry Opera Festival

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 August 2020
Mozart's comedy in a semi-staging full of youthful energy and imagination

It seems most appropriate that the last opera we saw before lockdown was Mozart (English National Opera's new production of Le nozze di Figaro) and that our first opera since then was also Mozart, Cosi fan tutte. Having cancelled the planned season, Waterperry Opera Festival put on a mini-season, and we caught the closing night on 16 August 2020, with Mozart's Cosi fan tutte in a semi-staging directed by Guy Withers and conducted by Bertie Baigent with Isabelle Peters, Beth Moxon, Zoe Drummond, Damian Arnold, Nicholas Morton and Oskar McCarthy, which was preceded by performances of Jonathan Dove's Ariel performed by Daniela Sicari, directed by Rebecca Meltzer.

Usually the main operas at the festival are staged in the amphitheatre in the gardens, but in order to give audience and performers more space, Cosi fan tutte was performed in front of the facade of Waterperry House, with the audience spread out across the lawn. Bertie Baigent conducted an ensemble of string quartet, oboe, bassoon and piano (Gabriella Jones, Hatty Haynes, Oscar Holch, Deni Teo, Will Ball, Emily Newman and Ashley Beauchamp), and Baigent himself provided the harpsichord continuo in the recitatives. Isabelle Peters and Beth Moxon were the sisters with Damian Arnold and Nicholas Morton as their lovers, plus Zoe Drummond as Despina and Oskar McCarthy as Don Alfonso. The opera was sung in Guy Wither's lively modern translation, and whilst the singers had scores there was plenty of action. 

Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Zoe Drummond, Isabelle Peters, Beth Moxon, Bertie Baigent, Damian Arnold - Waterperry Opera Festival
Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Zoe Drummond, Isabelle Peters, Beth Moxon, Bertie Baigent, Damian Arnold - Waterperry Opera Festival
more serious side was not ignored it was the potential for comedy which was mined. This was youthful and intentionally funny take on the story, which did not look too deeply at the darker elements of the plot which can sometimes overbalance things. Because of the location, the opera was amplified which seemed to give a slight edge to the sound, but I was impressed with the way all concerned delivered the text, and though we had an electronic version of the libretto you never needed to consult it.

Baigent and the instrumental ensemble started things off with a lively account of the overture, and the players demonstrated their skill in bringing off the reduced scoring so that it sounded as if it was meant to be, rather than being a cut down alternative. Throughout the performance there was much to enjoy from the band. 

Isabelle Peters and Beth Moxon made a charming pair of sisters, quite serious and not as skittish as you might have expected. Peters impressed with the seriousness that she brought to her aria 'Come scoglio', though the staging lightened this effect somewhat by having some physical comedy from the two men (Damian Arnold and Nicholas Morton). Beth Moxon made a delightful Dorabella, a neat foil for Peters yet Moxon was well able to hold her own in her aria and whilst she capitulated to Morton's naked chest she was clearly no easy pushover.

As the two lovers, Arnold and Morton were charming and both lively youthful characters; this really came out when they returned dressed a foreign workmen. Arnold impressed with his aria, 'Un'aura amorosa' though the open air and the amplification combined to rob his voice of some of the necessary element of honeyed charm, but his cheekie chappie persona and physical comedy certainly made an impression. Morton's Guglielmo was perhaps the more serious of the two, but still lively and full of physical comedy, again the two lovers made a nicely contrasting pair. Morton impressed with his musicality, though as ever Guglielmo's music doesn't catch fire as easily as Ferrando's does.  With all four lovers, you sensed the youthfulness in them, that whilst this all mattered, it didn't matter all that much.

Zoe Drummond made for a sparky Despina, here a gardener though really a jill of all trades, and Drummond's lively tone and easy way with character paid dividends. Oskar McCarthy's Don Alfonso was the local vicar and whilst McCarthy dealt impressively with the gravitas needed, I thought that the role rather rubbed up against the vicar persona in an awkward way.

On a day when thunder-storms were forecast, we were lucky with the weather, but rain appeared during the opera's finale, however the performance carried on  impressively and ebulliently to the end (instrumentalists were under cover and the harpsichord was deftly removed at the first hint of rain). The weather could not dampen the cast's clear enthusiasm and sheer joy at performing again. 

Jonathan Dove: Ariel - Daniela Sicari - Waterperry Opera Festival
Jonathan Dove: Ariel - Daniela Sicari - Waterperry Opera Festival
Earlier in the afternoon, Waterperry's formal gardens were the setting for Jonathan Dove's Ariel. Written in 1998, it is a setting of extracts from Ariel's speeches in The Tempest written for unaccompanied soprano. Whilst the work is billed as a song cycle, it plays continuously and evidently Dove envisaged some sort of staging. Daniella Sicari was mesmerising in the role, holding our attention in a riveting manner for 25 minutes with few props and no instrumental support. We seemed to be overhearing Ariel remembering what has gone on before, and Ariel's famous songs are intercut with fragments of other dialogue. Including Ariel in the programme was an imaginative response to the limitations of the current crisis, but Sicari's performance in Rebecca Meltzer's production showed that the work was far more than in interesting make-weight. 

In between the two operas we were able to wander round the impressive Waterperry gardens, and whilst having tea at the cafe were delightfully entertained by the four string players from the opera's instrumental ensemble performing Haydn string quartets. 

Elsewhere on this blog
  • Co-founder Jonathan Darbourne introduces The Vache Baroque Festival's debut staging of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas with Katie Bray as Dido  - interview
  • Words and line: Stuart Jackson and Jocelyn Freeman's fine recital disc, Flax and Fire, moves from Purcell to Britten, via Liszt, Wolf and Schumann - Cd review
  • Born in Cyprus, trained in London, the name Kemal Belevi is perhaps not well known but this disc from Duo Tandem is full of delightfully evocative pieces - CD review
  • On disc at last: Ethel Smyth's late masterwork, The Prison, receives its premiere recording in a fine performance from American forces - CD review
  • Outdoor engagement and energy: the Corran Quartet in Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven in an Islington courtyard - concert review
  • The close of an amazing season, and a farewell: the last Opera Holland Park of 2020 - concert review
  • 2000 years of history: guitarist Xuefei Yang on exploring the music of her homeland on her new disc Sketches of China, on DECCA - interview
  • Engaging dexterity: Bach's English Suites from the young Italian harpsichordist Paolo Zanzu  - CD review
  • A short yet magical experience: Interstices from Brother Tree Sound  - CD review
  • In the tavern of sweet songs: settings of classical Persian poetry in Edward Fitzgerald's English versions by contemporary composer David Lewiston Sharpe - Cd review
  • The Prison: conductor James Blachly on how an American conductor & orchestra finally brought Ethel Smyth's late masterwork to disc - interview
  • 'Home



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