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1998, Royal Opera at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London, Cosi fan tutte

Cosi fan Tutte

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Librettist: Lorenzo da Ponte
Venue and Dates: Royal Opera at the Shaftesbury Theatre, London
17, 20 March 1998
Conductor: Colin Davis
Director: Jonathan Miller
Performers:
Ferrando: Rainer Trost (17th) / Timothy Robinson (20th)
Guglielmo: Simon Keenlyside (17th) / Garry Magee (20th)
Don Alfonso: Thomas Allen (17th) / Natale De Carolis (20th)
Fiordiligi: Barbara Frittoli (17th) / Melanie Diener (20th.)
Dorabella: Enkelejda Shkosa (17th) / Sophie Koch (20th)
Despina: Inger Dam-Jensen (17th) / Clare Gormley (20th)
Chorus and Orchestra of the ROH

Notes: Please do let us know if you have further information on this production. Email us at webmaster@simonkeenlyside.info

Soundbites

Richard Fairman for Opera,  May 1998

Royal Opera at the Shaftesbury Theatre, March 17

…The enduring strength of Miller’s updating of the opera has been its ability to draw portrayals of the utmost naturalness from each of the casts in its revivals. At the tiny Shaftesbury Theatre, seen at close quarters, this team of six performed a minor miracle of opera as drama, making Così feel like a play with music. The three men wore their characters as comfortably as they did their lived-in suits (not Armani this time, but a spring collection from Marks and Spencer), and their every movement fitted Miller’s picture of easy-going modern life, from Ferrando’s adolescent slouch to Alfonso’s debonair way of brushing a hair from his cheek; the three girls, though playing the comedy more broadly, were only a whit less believable. After this it is going to be hard to return to off-the-peg productions in which six caricatures go through the usual old routines.

In the pit Colin Davis tended the music with loving care, caressing each phrase and gently closing each paragraph with a rallentando. This was Mozart with a soft edge, but most gracefully played by the orchestra. Though perhaps out of necessity, Barbara Frittoli’s Fiordiligi put character before beauty, turning her unevenness of tone at the top of the stave into quick-changing colours full of life and emotion. Enkelejda Shkosa, with a voice that is much more than a demure Mozartian mezzo, was great fun as Dorabella. An exciting career lies ahead of her and one hopes the Royal Opera will survive long enough for us to witness it. Rainer Trost and Simon Keenlyside repeated their near-ideal Ferrando and Guglielmo. Trost is less happy with the lyrical “Un aura amorosa” than his later music, but no Ferrando has opened his heartbreak more painfully to view; Keenlyside sang his second-act aria with splendid panache. A stylish Despina with a penchant for preening herself in the mirror works for this production and Inger Dam-Jensen always sang beautifully, even in her disguises as doctor and notary. Of Thomas Allen’s urbane and supercilious Don Alfonso, what more can be said? I certainly would not enter a bet with this man that I will ever see his role – or arguably the whole opera – better done.

The same edition of Opera (May 1998) has a review by George Hall of this production with the other cast:

Royal Opera at the Shaftesbury Theatre, March 20

Most of the second cast were new to their roles in this production, but Timothy Robinson’s Ferrando was a returnee, offering some graceful shaping in “Un aura amorosa”, though with a pinched quality in the higher reaches of his slender tenor. More generous tone and an ebullient stage manner marked the Guglielmo of Garry Magee, a young baritone who seems on this showing to have sizeable potential. The voice is richly coloured, with a genuinely Italianate solidity at its core (his Italian diction was equally authentic) and a characterization that was consistently purposeful. Together with Robinson he recreated the “cool dude” double-act around which the staging revolves with near-effortless ease.

Thomas Allen’s Alfonso being a particularly hard turn to follow, it says much for Natale De Carolis that he managed to create his own persona within the context of this finely wrought and unified production. Vocally soft-grained, physically self-possessed and sinuous, this polished sophisticate was in total command until suddenly nonplussed at final curtain at the scale of an emotional débâcle he could scarcely ignore.

Melanie Diener’s Fiordiligi, first seen in this production in February 1997, made a positive vocal impact and blended well with Sophie Koch’s Dorabella, even though the two sisters displayed less close a rapport than did their equivalents in the first cast or indeed their male admirers in this one. The Australian soprano Clare Gormley made her Royal Opera debut as Despina – a part she’s sung with the Met as a former winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions. Hers is an attractive, metallic voice, bright as change jingling in the pocket, but given the subtleties going on around her the attention-seeking facial expressions she indulged in wree bound to coarsen proceedings. In the relatively intimate space of the Shaftesbury, more was almost inevitably going to be less.

Overall, indeed, there was a slight loss in definition, even conviction, compared to the first cast, but the deep seriousness of the enterprise was evident nonetheless. It had integrity stamped all over it, not least in terms of musical finesse. So lucid are the textures in Colin Davis’s Così these days that a benign light seems to rise from the pit as he conducts. His reading is also more relaxed, more warmly humane, than of yore. A little more largesse in the phrasing might have been nice, but as an interpretation this was already as close to perfection as makes no difference.

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