first night

Cosi Fan Tutte

Rebecca Mackinnon finds a performance of two halves while reviewing DOE's production of Mozart's opera.

Cosi Fan Tutte is a playful opera of mistaken identities, and as such, one can expect bouncing, carefree arias, trills aplenty and a fair amount of slapstick, which DOE delivered with some success. The first impressions of the production was that the cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream had wandered onto the set of Pride and Prejudice and begun to sing – the costumes were wonderfully reminiscent of Jane Austen’s era, and suited the themes of the opera to a tee.

The vocals of the cast, it must be noted, were exceptional throughout. The opening scene between Don Alfonso (Sam Morgan), Ferrando (Joe Childs) and Guglielmo (Freddie Coltart) was well executed, funny, and with a blend of voices to which to listen was a genuine pleasure. Morgan’s voice in particular has a beautiful tone, and this, coupled with his undeniable stage presence, meant he delivered a very accomplished performance. Freshers Polly Leech and Alys Roberts as the magnificently silly Dorabella and Fiordiligi also displayed great talent, their voices complimenting but never overshadowing each other. Fleur Moore-Bridger as Despina (another quasi-Shakespearian character, reminiscent of the conniving Mistress Quickly from Merry Wives of Windsor) proved to have a voice that, while perhaps not quite as powerful at points as Roberts and Leech, more than equalled her in control and subtlety. Moore-Bridger also had wonderfully clear diction – I didn’t lose a single word, while other characters could take a little more care over this.

The first half was very enjoyable – fast-paced, polished, and genuinely funny in places, with the vapid inanity of the girls playing off very nicely against Childs’ and Coltart’s over-confident buffoonery. However, there were moments of inaction during which the performance wobbled – in the longer pauses between singing, the actors occasionally seemed unsure of what to do with themselves, which, for an audience, is discomfiting and awkward. It was also clear at points that the actors moved only because they had been told to, rather than having any particular reason to do so – the singing was strong enough that had any one of the actors stood still and held the stage, the audience would have gone with them. As it was, the nervous energy transferred to the audience, leaving us anxious as to whether the cast knew where they were meant to be. I do think, however, that much of this can be attributed to first night nerves, as with most productions.

The second half unfortunately unravelled slightly. The orchestra, up until this point playing with great panache, became tentative and unsure. At one point a very exposed horn solo failed to come in at all, leaving Fiordiligi almost unaccompanied. The cast too seemed to lose energy and focus. In Fiordiligi’s aria lamenting her lack of strength and virtue, Roberts, despite the still-beautiful voice, seemed to lose momentum, and once lost, spent the rest of the – very long – aria trying to recapture the audience. There was much glancing nervously into the pit for guidance, from all of the cast, and the chorus, in one of their sporadic appearances, were woefully out of time with the orchestra. It appeared as though most of the rehearsal time had been spent polishing the first half, and very little on the second.

There were, however, redeeming moments. Coltart’s wooing of Dorabella elicited the biggest laughs of the night. They were, admittedly, cheap laughs – but laughs nonetheless, highly appropriate for the farcical nature of the opera, and who doesn’t love watching an unplanned boob grope onstage? Coltart displayed a performative ingenuity here that was not always apparent in the production, really playing with the material in a different way. Morgan too exemplified this mark of an accomplished performer – his facial expressions and cynical asides were deftly and confidently handled, and despite one or two line slips, his charisma meant that the audience felt comfortable when he was on stage.

Overall, I genuinely enjoyed the production. It was great fun, relentlessly silly, and with some truly stunning voices on display, and after what must be a few first night mishaps, I’m sure that the performers will grow in confidence and deliver a more polished production. It just seemed that such an ambitious show could have done with a little more rehearsal time, not always possible in Durham, but nonetheless necessary.


12 November 2010

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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