OPERA - MOZART - COSI - REVIEW
Two ladies of quality,
Fiordiligi and Dorabella, are taken with the portraits of two soldiers,
Guglielmo and Ferrando. That pair are so in love with themselves that
they refuse to believe that their girlfriends could be unfaithful. A
philosopher, Don Alfonso, schools the vain men in the power that pity
and tedium have to make women all the same – Cosi
fan tutte, as the title of Mozart’s opera has it. Their maid,
Despina, instructs the naive girls in how to get the most out of being
Don Alfonso tests their
fidelity, and the credulousness of the audience, by having the men
pretend to go to war, only to pop up a few minutes later disguised as
Albanians who lay siege to whatever virtue the ladies retain.
Victorian Opera chose
this challenge for its premiere season at Her Majesty’s. The chances
of assembling a cast equal to the fiendishness of Mozart’s vocal lines
are slight anywhere. The new company sought to ride over any
infelicities in the singing with vitality in every department.
Alphonso and Despina are more engaging than their self-deluded pupils.
As Despina, Tiffany Speight opted to make a caricature of all the
caricatures of pert maids, confirming that nothing succeeds like excess.
She missed no opportunity to inflect a note or roll an eye.
Gary Rowley as Don
Alfonso gave the younger men lessons in stage and vocal techniques as
well as in love. His whole body established his role. His baritone was
subtle, dark and sparkling by turns. His humour evoked menace as much as
Jacqueline Dark as
Dorabella acted and spoke with more authority than she sang until she
caught fire. That breakthrough led to a playfulness which carried her
beyond the doll-like demeanour that she and Fiordiligi must portray at
Fiordiligi escaped from that puppet-like stance to establish a
sympathetic personality by holding her passions in check even as she
managed her notorious aria, “Firm as a Rock”.
Ferrando and Guglielmo
are emotionally more like teenagers than swaggerers, an aspect which the
young performers brought to the fore. Christopher Saunders as Ferrando
had the sweet tones of a choir boy, though with more cheek. Christopher
Tonkin as Guglielmo could not even overact. His baritone possessed
reserves of power without so much as primary colours.
The only striking
costume from designer Christina Smith was for Despina as she
impersonated a doctor. The rest of the wardrobe looked as if the
performers had asked their mums to run them up something. Smith’s sets
were folds of floral fabrics. At times, they looked liked painted flats.
Their mimicry of nature always reproduced the artificial in the plot and
Mignon filled the evening with a stream of stage business. These tricks
of the trade did not point towards any comprehension of the significance
of “the school for lovers”. Mignon proceeded as if the Enlightenment
had passed Mozart by.
The company’s musical
director, Richard Gill, kept Orchestra Victoria alert to the textures of
the score, echoing the wit of the libretto.