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1990, ENO London, Cosi fan tutte

Cosi fan Tutte

1991_Cosi_ENO_02_SK___Rita_Cullis

SK and Rita Cullis

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Librettist: Lorenzo da Ponte (English translation, Marmaduke E Brown, revised by John Cox)
Venue and Dates: English National Opera, London Coliseum.
(Revival of the 1980 ENO production)
17, 21, 23, 27, 29 November, 3 December 1990
(also 5 more performances in Dec without Simon)
Conductor: Peter Robinson
Chorus Master: Stephen Clarke)
Director: John Cox
Design: Roger Butlin
Performers:
Ferrando : Glenn Winslade
Guglielmo : Simon Keenlyside
Don Alfonso : Andrew Shore
Fiordiligi : Rita Cullis
Dorabella : Ethna Robinson
Despina : Elizabeth Gale<

1991_Cosi_ENO_01_Andrew_Shore___Elizabeth_Gale

Andrew Shore and Elizabeth Gale

Soundbites

Edward Greenfield for the Guardian, 20th November 1990

MOZART’S Cosi fan tutte may seem an odd entertainment for the Christmas season at English National Opera, but there is, after all, something of the frolic of pantomime, not to mention the commedia dell’arte, in Da Ponte’s schematic to-ing and fro-ing of love.

It was all the more disappointing in the opening performance of the present run that the mixture failed to fizz, even though the ingredients were first-rate, and there was much to enjoy in a sober sort of way.

John Cox’s production, first seen just 10 years ago, with its architectural Neapolitan sets by Roger Butlin, relates us in time and manners to the world of civilised Regency society, bringing Da Ponte close to the stylised manners of Jane Austen. Yet in this revival the result remains disconcertingly plain, and a highly promising cast, almost all of them new to their roles, are made to seem heavy-handed.

Even Andrew Shore, whose Papageno was a riotous success of in the recent revival of The Magic Flute, failed to register the dominance of the manipulator in his Don Alfonso. The voice was in fine form, cutting and precise with perfect diction, but that made one regret all the more Mozart’s failure to provide Alfonso with a really substantial solo.

The pairs of lovers too all sang well yet had to labour hard, and it was left to Elizabeth Gale, a stalwart of Mozart at Glyndebourne, to demonstrate the art of finding sparkle and charm in the piece. Her animation, her concern for detailed movement, were a lesson to everyone. Yet with Peter Robinson returning to conduct this revival, the musical side was never less than efficient, and often much more. Rita Cullis in particular, singing her first Fiordiligi, went from strength to strength. The two big arias found her at her finest. The formidable leaps were achieved with satisfying security and real beauty. Only a full chest register eludes her. Once those vocal tests were over, she blossomed still more, and the moment when Fiordiligi finaIly gave in to Ferrando’s pleas was the most touching of the night.

The ensemble she achieved with Ethna Robinson as Dorabella brought pinpoint clarity - how endlessly they must have practised together – and though the voice is on a different scale Miss Robinson too sang with complete security. Glenn Winslade as Ferrando was amiably warm-toned, only occasionally too strenuous, while Simon Keenlyside as Guglielmo made the most promising of ENO debuts, using his finely focussed baritone with point and imagination, perfectly contrasted against the equally well-sung Alfonso of Andrew Shore.

With such ingredients and the magic of Mozart, it can’t be long before the production gets airborne.

Barry Millington, Opera magazine, January 1991

Performance on 23 November

David Freeman’s searing, psychologically probing Opera Factory production of Cosi fan tutte put down such a marker for the work as an opera for our times that it must be difficult for any subsequent director to interpret it afresh. John Cox’s 1980 production for the ENO predated Freeman’s, and though there were perhaps one or two concessions in his revival to more recent ideas about the work, he was broadly content to play safe. An elegant classical facade placed against a painted backdrop of the Bay of Naples (designer: Roger Butlin) locates the production more or less in the era of the composer. Sweetness and light were restored among all parties in the final ensemble, and although Despina showed momentary bitterness about her role in the affair, she accepted Don Alfonso’s shilling readily enough, and joined gaily in the finale.

A traditional end, then, to a traditional production, yet on the way there were shafts of remorse as well as wit, and music and staging worked well together to catch the shifting moods of pleasure and pain. The natural acting abilities of an excellent team of soloists were exploited to fine effect. Particularly moving was the duet ‘Fra gli amplessi’ in which the resistance of Rita Cullis’s Fiordiligi movingly gave way under the amorous pressure of Glenn Winslade’s Ferrando. The latter, of course, is partly acting to get even with Guglielmo, but Winslade also managed to suggest the pathos of one condemned to bring about misery against his own will.

Fiordiligi’s ‘Per pietà” was another highlight, with Cullis touchingly evoking the mixed emotions of guilt and sorrow, as well as a feeling of vulnerability. Robinson may not be the most sweet-toned of Dorabellas, but it is a vivid characterisation stylishly sung. Simon Keenlyside’s excellent Guglielmo cut a sympathetic figure, while Elizabeth Gale’s Despina, mercifully eschewing funny voices, brought a fine sense of comic timing and an apt hauteur to the role of the rebellious servant. Andrew Shore, who recently scored such a success as the ENO Papageno, presented an interesting view of Don Alfonso: he was less the cynic philosopher than the humane realist – reasonably so, since Alfonso turns out to be the character most in touch with human nature.

Peter Robinson ‘s conducting was alive to the poignancy of the farewell quintet and the terzettino ‘Soave sia il vento’ in Act I, but was unafraid to give the music its head when surges of passion were called for. The orchestra was on its best form and a special word of praise is due for the inventive continuo playing of Anthony Legge at the harpsichord.

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