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REVIEW: Così fan tutte, Longborough Festival Opera

Review by Preston Witts

Così fan tutte, Longborough Festival Opera, 29th June

IT IS said that necessity is the mother of invention. Nowhere is this saying more appropriate than at Longborough Festival Opera, whose resourcefulness in dealing with the constraints imposed by Covid 19 has been truly inspired.

The imaginative strategy to bring opera back to this glorious venue in the Cotswolds – while mask-wearing and social-distancing rules are still in place – has proved to be a magnificent triumph.

The festival’s organisers had taken the unusual step of erecting a huge marquee in which to stage three of their four operas this year. The first of these “in the round” productions – Mozart’s Così fan tutte – shows what can be done when creativity and rock-solid professionalism are combined to keep the show on the road.

There had been concerns that the acoustic in this big red tent might be affected. But such worries are dispelled immediately the band strikes up. And this is indeed a band rather than a full orchestra – the Barefoot Band of six players conducted by their musical director Lesley Anne Sammons.

Sammons also arranged the score for this production from Mozart’s original orchestration, which she has admitted was no easy task. The final result is something different but utterly beguiling – a skilful mix of recorders, clarinet, accordion, keyboard, double bass and percussion. It is unmistakably Mozart, but with a nod in the direction of the 1920s Jazz Age.

There is another notable feature of this production; it is sung in English in a translation from the original Lorenzo Da Ponte libretto by Amanda Holden, specially commissioned by Longborough.

Idunnu Münch. Photo: LFO
Idunnu Münch. Photo: LFO

And, as for the singing – as well as the acting – the performances are spot on. Perhaps the most striking of these is the powerful soprano voice of Anna Patalong in the role of Fiordiligi, one of the two sisters whose boyfriends take up a bet to prove their girlfriends are absolutely faithful – with disastrous results.

However, when there are only six characters in the opera, all of whom, in their different ways, are superb, it could be a little unfair to single out one individual for special praise (even if she deserves it!). In these six characters, Mozart and Da Ponte have given us a work that cleverly explores many aspects of human nature, but ultimately its frailty.

Così fan tutte is roughly translated as ‘women are human’ or ‘all women do the same’. For a long time the opera was seen as something of a slur on the good name of women. In reality it’s a satire on human fickleness that’s aimed at men as well as women, channelled through the medium of glorious music and brilliant humour.

The Irish bass John Molloy is commanding in the Magus-like role of Don Alfonso, the cynical manipulator whose devious stratagems set the whole drama in motion. The German mezzo-soprano Idunnu Münch is sultrily captivating as Dorabella, the sister of Fiordiligi. And the two boyfriends, tenor William Morgan as Ferrando and baritone Marcus Farnsworth as Guglielmo, play their hapless parts to perfection.

And soprano Lizzie Holmes is amusingly waspish as the sisters’ maid Despina, whose cynicism makes her a natural ally of Don Alfonso in his plot to prove that women are indeed human. Her roles in disguise as a doctor and then a lawyer show she has a natural talent for comic characters.

Così fan tutte is living proof of Longborough Festival Opera’s extraordinary inventiveness in the face of adversity.

Next up, from 13th July to 18th July, is The Return of Ulysses by Claudio Monteverdi and from 29th July to 3rd August is The Cunning Little Vixen by Leoš Janáček.

Cosi fan tutte (48892602)
Cosi fan tutte (48892602)

The director of Così fan tutte – a position demanding real verve and imagination in the circumstances of the pandemic – is Sam Brown.

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