Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

Arizona Opera Ends Season in Fine Style with Fille du Régiment

On April 10, 2015, Arizona Opera ended its season with La Fille du Régiment at Phoenix Symphony Hall. A passionate Marie, Susannah Biller was a veritable energizer bunny onstage. Her voice is bright and flexible with a good bloom on top and a tiny bit of steel in it. Having created an exciting character, she sang with agility as well as passion.

Il turco in Italia, Royal Opera

This second revival of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 2005 production of Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia seems to have every going for it: excellent principals comprising experienced old-hands and exciting new voices, infinite gags and japes, and the visual éclat of Agostino Cavalca’s colour-bursting costumes and Christian Fenouillat’s sunny sets which evoke the style, glamour and ease of La Dolce Vita.

The Siege of Calais
——
The Wild Man of the West Indies

English Touring Opera’s 2015 Spring Tour is audacious and thought-provoking. Alongside La Bohème the company have programmed a revival of their acclaimed 2013 production of Donizetti’s The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) and the composer’s equally rare The Wild Man of the West Indies (Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo).

The Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Mary Zimmerman’s still-fresh production is made fresher still by Shagimuratova’s glimmering voice, but the acting disappoints

Voices, voices in space, and spaces: Thoughts on 50 years of Meredith Monk

When WNYC’s John Schaefer introduced Meredith Monk’s beloved Panda Chant II, which concluded the four-and-a-half hour Meredith Monk & Friends celebration at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, he described it as “an expression of joy and musicality” before lamenting the fact that playing it on his radio show could never quite compete with a live performance.

St. John Passion by Soli Deo Gloria, Chicago

This year’s concert of the Chicago Bach Project, under the aegis of the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation, was a presentation of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Così Fan Tutte, Hampstead Garden Opera
09 May 2012

My Big Fat American Moustache: A Wartime Così Fan Tutte

An energetic and exceptionally entertaining production of Così fan tutte sung in English and set during World War II, when the Americans often got the girls.

W. A. Mozart: Così Fan Tutte

Ferrando: Zachary Devin; Guglielmo: Henry Manning; Fiordiligi: Maud Millar; Dorabella: Sarah Denbee; Despina: Marion Wyllie; Don Alfonso: Daniel Roddick. Hampstead Garden Opera. Conductor: Dorian Komanoff Bandy. Production Director: Daisy Evans. Artistic Director: Oliver-John Ruthven. Set and Costume Designer: Katherine Heath. Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate, London, 3 May 2012.

Photos by Laurent Compagnon courtesy of Hampstead Garden Opera

 

Daisy Evans, who directed Così fan tutte for Hampstead Garden Opera, had the wonderfully inspired idea of setting it in Sicily, in October 1943, at the height of the Allies’ Italian campaign. Ferrando and Guglielmo become two young British lieutenants, briefly on leave from the front on the mainland, and Fiordiligi and Dorabella two giddy members of an Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) concert troupe sent out to divert the Allied soldiers. By this historical juncture British and American troops were fighting together, and this provides Ferrando and Guglielmo with a good reason to disguise themselves as Americans. Evans describes the scenario in her “Director’s Note” as “a micro society built far from home with people you’d never normally encounter, where motivation, morals and hope become plastic, changeable and precarious.” It’s all very convincing.

I was reminded of Kenneth Branagh’s sadly underrated cinematic updating of Love’s Labour’s Lost, set in the late 1930s with the threat of war looming over Europe — not least because of the striking parallels between Shakespeare’s very unconventional comedy and Mozart’s opera. In both cases the introduction of the realities of war gives an “edge” to proceedings often represented as unfolding in a dreamy never-never space, while also, paradoxically, somehow justifying any silliness that does not involve mass slaughter.

Evans’s concept works brilliantly in every respect, and I have no hesitation declaring this the most dramatically solid Così I’ve seen. In the original Da Ponte opera, the decision of Ferrando and Guglielmo to disguise themselves as bushily-moustached Albanians who happen to speak perfect Italian is basically farcical, very much like the lovers pretending to be Russians in Love’s Labour’s Lost. One feels they could be from any country, for all that it matters; one cannot imagine the mere fact of their being Albanian adding to their attraction. By contrast, in the Hampstead Garden Opera production the decision of the lovers to impersonate Americans has real point, and the lines about moustaches are actually funnier — at least if you’re British. In seeming to be Americans, Ferrando and Guglielmo are seen to have an immediate advantage over their British counterparts: they are wealthier, better dressed, more confident, gung-ho and “with it.” They have wonderful things like chocolate and nylon stockings, and can advertise their sexual prowess through raunchier modes of dancing. From the moment they first appear it is obvious the “real” Ferrando and Guglielmo are involved in an unequal struggle. Theatrically speaking, too, the old cliché about two countries divided by a common language allows for plenty of fun, in general the attempts at American pronunciation being (I take it) deliberately bad and inconsistent.

A1193.gif(Left to right) Sarah Denbee (Dorabella), Henry Manning (Guglielmo), Zachary Devin (Ferrando), and Maud Millar (Fiordiligi)

The production utilizes an English translation by Martin Fitzpatrick, tweaked here and there to reference the 1940s situation. It is beautifully idiomatic and faithful to the music’s rhythms; this, in combination with the clear articulation of the singers, made it remarkably easy to hear almost every word. And it was worth paying attention, for line after line had the audience indulging not just in polite chortles but unrestrained hilarity. Two examples from Despina: “What do you think your lovers will do on ‘active service’?”; “Eat up the pasta, but leave room for the salami!” Examples of sensitive modernizing include Ferrando and Guglielmo telling Don Alfonso “You’re a bitter old cynic. / You should be in a clinic” and “I think we’ll hit the jackpot.” One line which caught everyone’s attention was Guglielmo’s describing Fiordiligi as a “faithless, double-crossing, deceitful, lying bitch!” While Italian “cagna” does translate as “bitch,” in the original it is merely the last in a string of nouns, some of them rather past their sell-by date. The piling up of adjectives in the English made the b-word far more emphatic; the fact that it seemed more likely to be spoken by Guglielmo’s assumed American character made the rhetorical moment a memorable coup de théâtre.

The thoroughly entertaining and easily accessible dialogue, the irresistible buffoonery surrounding the “American” imposture, the well-judged, hammy performances by the sisters, who gave the general impression of feeling lucky that they had men at all, let alone two each, and the bounce and verve which Hampstead Garden Opera brought to the whole performance, made it difficult to remember that Mozartean opera is often disparaged as an elitist pastime even by people who like Shakespeare, or who will queue in the rain for a Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. There was nothing elitist about this production. It was popular Mozart, but not dumbed down Mozart, and in fact more intellectually engaging than many a “classic” production in the original language. (When he directed a landmark Magic Flute in English in 1911, Edward Dent argued that there were no limits to the potential popularity of Mozartean opera in Britain, provided it were performed in good translations — I’m now convinced he was right.) A glance around the utterly unpretentious Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre revealed a very diverse audience of the young and old, fashionable and unfashionable, and (I would guess) very different income levels. A deep and unforced sense of pleasure appeared to be general.

In productions like this, put together on shoestring budgets, goodwill and enthusiasm, it is of course unreasonable to expect the very highest musical standards. But that acknowledged, the level was remarkably high, and one would have needed a fastidious ear or uncompromising “professional” standard to go home feeling unsatisfied. The six principals were all outstanding, and if their singing tended to the robust rather than the subtle, this fitted the generally spirited nature of the production. They all possessed a strong stage presence, displayed fine acting skills, and brought an infectious zest to everything they did.

A4018.gifZachary Devin (Ferrando), Henry Manning (Guglielmo, and Sarah Denbee (Dorabella)

The musical director was Dorian Komanoff Bandy, who has undertaken extensive research into historical performance practices in Mozart’s operas and brings the results to this particular production. I can do no better than quote his own account: “In our production of Così, we see the musical text not as a finished document, but as a starting point. True to 18th-century practices, cadenzas will be fitted to the individual singers, and will vary with each performance. Ornamentation will likewise be mostly unpremeditated. Even my recitative continuo, which I will play on a fortepiano similar to Mozart’s, will be active and pervasive, participating in the dramatic action rather than accompanying it. (Would Mozart, the great showman, have sat idly at the keyboard and strummed chords only at cadences?)” I am not qualified to comment on the historical claims made here, but there was no arguing with the fact that the approach brought the music to life in a way which suited the production perfectly. Komanoff Bandy’s palpable passion for what he was doing matched that of the principals on stage, and he secured some very fine playing from his little orchestra. Tempos were fast, but not excessively so, and the music bristled with energy, conveying a general sense of urgency and agitation appropriate to the unstable wartime scenario. This was not the “Classical” or even the “Romantic” Mozart, but it was an unquestionably theatrical Mozart.

It is worth adding, in conclusion, that Hampstead Garden Opera, founded in 1990, has always had a special affinity for Mozart. In fact the company was established specifically with a view to performing his operas, and though they have gone on to explore the works of many other composers, they have kept returning to Mozart. But in the past they have focused mainly on Don Giovanni, Figaro, and The Magic Flute. This is only the second time they have presented Così fan tutte, making it all the more praiseworthy that they have pulled off such a bold and successful reinterpretation.

David Chandler

Cast

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):