Così fan tutte, English Touring Opera, Hackney Empire, March 2013

If this were Shakespeare we might find our performers to be spirits melted into thin, thin air, for we know nothing about them. They are ciphers on which Mozart and his librettist Da Ponte created a piece of theatre at once frivolous and profound, expressing a joy, playfulness and inanity inherent to life itself. The music avoids easy resolution, and although the opera’s finale contains one, there is no redemption.

Guglielmo, Don Alfonso, Ferrando, all images ETO/ Robert Workman

Guglielmo, Don Alfonso, Ferrando, all images ETO/ Robert Workman

Don Alfonso wants to teach his young friends Ferrando and Guglielmo a lesson, and bets them that their lovers Dorabella and Fiordiligi will surely prove unfaithful if given the chance. Helped by Despina the maid, he proves his point — as the title implies, they like others will all do the same. Considered at one time a heartless farce with heavenly music, Così fan tutte is now a staple in the Mozart repertoire and some reckon it to be one of the greatest operas ever.

Dorabella and Fiordiligi

Dorabella and Fiordiligi

This clever ETO production by Paul Higgins, with its simple but very effective designs by Samal Blak, juxtaposes reality with artificiality, allowing the audience to use its imagination. It all starts during the overture with a dumb play expressing hidden feelings and ambiguity, behind a gauze, and the same technique is used to great effect later in partially hiding a pair of lovers. Then at the end the performers quietly change positions on the stage during the sextet, reflecting the fluidity of their feelings, despite contrary protestations of outraged pride earlier in the opera.

Lovers in disguise

Lovers in disguise

The lovers carried it all off with a delightful mixture of frustration and vivacity. Laura Mitchell and Kitty Whately as Fiordiligi and Dorabella, and Anthony Gregory and Toby Girling as Ferrando and Guglielmo all sang beautifully and I particularly liked Kitty Whately’s lyricism and the clear boldness of Anthony Gregory’s voice. Paula Sides as Despina was suffering from whiplash that presumably constrained her movements, but one would scarcely have known it, and her performance had a fine devil-may-care attitude showing the maid to be far more knowing than the shallow young ladies she serves. She drew great applause for her early Act II aria, and her singing, and that of the excellent Richard Mosley-Evans as Don Alfonso, was a delight.

Hearing this in Martin Fitzpatrick’s wonderful translation, with clear diction from the singers, provided an immediacy with no need for the intervention of surtitles, and James Burton in the orchestra pit brought out fine and well nuanced playing from the orchestra. Altogether an unadulterated joy.

Performances continue on tour at: Curve Theatre, Leicester, 11th Mar; Churchill Theatre, Bromley, 15th Mar; Exeter Northcott, 19th, 20th Mar; Norwich Theatre Royal, 25th Mar; The Hawth, Crawley, 2nd Apr; Lighthouse, Poole, 5th Apr; Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, 8th Apr; York Theatre Royal, 11th Apr; Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, 15th Apr; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 18th Apr; Gala Theatre, Durham, 22nd Apr; Buxton Opera House, 25th Apr; Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, 30th Apr, 4th May; Warwick Arts Centre, 8th, 9th May; Perth Festival, Perth Theatre, 18th May; Cambridge Arts Theatre, 23rd, 24th May; G Live Guildford, 27th May — for details click here.

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