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Seen and Heard Opera Review
Mozart, Così fan tutte: Soloists, orchestra and chorus of the Benjamin Britten International Opera School, Michael Rosewell, conductor; Ian Judge, director; Alison Nalder, designer; Mark Doubleday, lighting; The Royal College of Music, London, 29 June 2005 (ED)
Fiordiligi: Anna Leese (soprano)
Dorabella: Martina Welschenbach (soprano)
Ferrando: Thomas Walker (tenor)
Guglielmo: Andrew Conley (baritone)
Despina: Silvia Moi (soprano)
Don Alfonso: George Matheakakis (bass)
Of the three Mozart and da Ponte collaborations Così fan tutte is perhaps the one that lends itself best to performance by young artists, as the maelstrom of love and fickle emotions is by its very nature youthful. This sun-soaked production in the Britten Theatre retained a youthful appeal throughout, and being situated non-specifically in time or place it underlined the universality of the subject to all.
But youth in looks and voice is far from all that is needed for a truly successful production. The gift Mozart and da Ponte give to youth is simultaneously the challenge set for it, met in terms of musical stylization and interaction. More than any other opera, Così fan tutte is chamber music for voices, given the move away from solo arias towards duets, trios, quartets, quintets and sextets that Mozart so delights in throughout the score, though each character also has solo moments in which to shine. To find an ensemble in the true sense that can complement each other as well as rise to the solo moments is far from easy. But the rewards for the listener can be manifold, corresponding to a firm musical basis for developing artists.
I have been very careful not to label this a student production, for the reason that I do not consider it to have been one in any sense. The production rightly placed the emphasis on the plot and was superbly directed with many touches of humour suggested by Mozart or da Ponte being brought out. More, though, it underlined the internal confusion of love with infatuation, through movement, concerted pacing alternating with idleness.
Musically too this was reinforced by vibrato-less playing from the orchestra. At times perhaps the sound lacked presence – either through fast tempi or being lost in acoustic that favours neither extreme of the register; violins, occasionally, were overly thin and the basses all but disappeared. After a slightly uncertain start, Act I moved dynamically to great effect. Alas the momentum was lost in Act II with Michael Rosewell’s unusually ponderous tempo for the aria ‘Per pietà’, though things recovered later on.
As Ferrando and Guglielmo, Thomas Walker and Andrew Conley embodied headstrong rashfulness turning to doubt about the consequences of their actions in seeking to seduce each other’s girl. Vocally, Thomas Walker’s tenor was stronger, though pushed at the top, but both played off against one another capturing what is unwritten in da Ponte’s masterful libretto.
If anything this was refined still further by Martina Welschenbach and Anna Leese, with exemplary acting and vocal skill, achieving an intimate mix of tone that was also sufficiently different when required for characterization. Anna Leese, a delightful actress, brought Fiordiligi vibrantly to life with first stubbornness and then impassioned submission. Martina Welschenbach’s Dorabella proved rightly less impetuous to illustrate another facet of characterization.
Don Alfonso and Despina prove the foil to the others and themselves in their cunning through richly drawn roles. Silvia Moi acted her part fully, exploiting the possibilities for vocalization and insinuation nicely throughout. For his part, George Matheakakis was more understated, providing comment on the whole as it unraveled in rich tones that marked down suitably in ensemble passages.
Così fan tutte is a jewel of an opera, and this shone though due to the contributions of all concerned, confirming in the process some names to watch out for. Anna Leese for me headed this list. Quite appropriately, the production did not seek to neatly tie up the loose end of the drama, and left one realizing that even in comic vein Mozart achieved a greater understanding of human emotions than is commonly acknowledged.