Review: Fantastic production of ‘perfect’ opera

12 Apr 2013 @ 9.11 am
| Entertainment
‘Lively, engaging and brilliant’: the ETO’s Cosi Fan Tutte
Review: Cosi Fan Tutte by English Touring Opera
Venue: York Theatre Royal, April 11

Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte (or The School For Lovers) is described by The English Touring Opera as “a cynical gentleman’s conviction that women cannot be faithful [which] sets in motion a chain of deceit, disguise and desire”. So it’s all about fiancée swapping in the 1700s.

The English Touring Opera are a large ensemble which must be costly to maintain and run. It consists of a 25-strong orchestra (plus conductor), a 13-piece choir, who are able to sound as if you are listening to a choir of 40, and an opera cast of six in this case (larger for other productions) – so I was pleased to see a full house.

My first impression as the orchestra started the overture was that the music sounded a little dead and too quiet. It lacked the reverb of a large classical concert hall and then I realised that the orchestra were playing acoustically without any amplification.

I wished for a couple of overhead microphones to give the orchestra a bigger sound but by the time we got to Act I, Scene 2 and the singers had started I’d forgotten all about amplification and was enjoying the performances. It really was fantastic to go to a opera and hear it as it was meant to be heard in 1790 when Mozart first performed Cosi Fan Tutte.

This is “the most perfect ensemble opera ever written” according to the ETO – so what about their production? Well I had concerns about the work being sung in English and I fully understand why the company have done that (making opera more accessible and all that) but I would have preferred it to be sung in Italian.

The big vocal pieces worked well and you could say that Cosi Fan Tutte doesn’t have any of Mozart’s hits in the repertoire (unlike The Marriage Of Figaro and The Magic Flute) but I struggled with the pieces of sung dialogue that were there just to move the story along, they all were a bit samey to me. I blame Wolfgang Amadeus for this and not the ETO who did a fantastic job.

The acting, singing and playing were all superb and the cast were lively, engaging and brilliant (particularly Paula Sides as Despina the maid). The opera seemed to dip in the early part of Act II when Fiordiligi (Laura Mitchell) had a long solo and some of the energy disappeared (Wolfgang’s fault again) but this was a fantastic production.

I think everyone should experience a live theatrical opera at least once in their life, and I don’t mean watching a London production that’s been filmed for viewing in a cinema (a medium I’m still unconvinced by). You need to be in the room with the performers.

The running time of the opera was just under three hours and it is testament to the ETO that I was completely engrossed in the show and the time flew by.

  • English Touring Opera perform Simon Boccanegra at the York Theatre Royal on Friday, April 12 – more details here
  • And they perform The Siege Of Calais there on Saturday, April 13 – go here for details