Così fan tutte, Theatre Royal, Glasgow
English Concert/I Fagiolini, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Songs of Wars I Have Seen, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Scottish Opera's take on Mozart's tale of female fickleness (and male foolishness) is sexy and alluring
Sunday 03 May 2009
Sumptuously costumed in the tight-trussed corsets and military breeches of the cusp of the 20th century, flushed with the impetuosity of youth and acrid with the cynicism of experience, David McVicar's Scottish Opera production of Così fan tutte is as sad as it is sexy.
Mozart's most modern opera is as much about the foolishness of young men as it is about the susceptibility of young women to extravagant romantic gestures. And if anyone knew about the business of falling in love with one sister then marrying another, it was Mozart.
Much like McVicar's La traviata, this is a staging of delectable details. Six silent actors move unobtrusively, serving drinks or playing billiards in the bar where Don Alfonso (Peter Savidge) makes his wager with Ferrando (Joel Prieto) and Guglielmo (Ville Rusanen). Their characters are quickly drawn: the young men arrogant and competitive yet wary enough to hesitate before accepting the bet; their mentor and adversary still vulnerable enough to be stung by a passing jibe at his age. Through the windows of this masculine sanctuary, the Faraglioni Rocks of the island of Capri can be seen in the distance. They're more than a touristic detail in Yannis Thavoris's handsome sets. They're the rocks that Fiordiligi (Violet Noorduyn) later points to as a symbol of her fidelity in "Come scoglio".
Just as Ferrando and Guglielmo idealise their lovers, so do Fiordiligi and Dorabella (Caitlin Hulcup). All four are impossibly naive, and much of Mozart's Act I music can be taken as a parody of the traditional lovers' lexicon: the sobs, the vows, the proud declarations. While McVicar plays with the girls' lockets, giving a foretaste of the coming confusion, Despina (Marie McLaughlin) bustles in: a regular Scottish wifey with a low regard for girls who don't recognise a mangle, and a natty way of extinguishing cigarettes with her apron. Despatched to battle, the soldiers are repackaged as moustachioed Turks; the dense foliage of the warm summer evening descends and the wooing and wounding begins.
Though Noorduyn is short-breathed in florid passages, she's an expressive and sympathetic Fiordiligi. Hulcup's transformation from would-be vamp to shamed ingénue – Guglielmo's angry seduction of Dorabella veers towards date rape – is superbly handled. Rusanen's bright, incisive baritone is a strong foil to Prieto's sweet and persuasive tenor (the find of Scottish Opera's season). Directed from the fortepiano by Tobias Ringborg, the orchestral playing is bold and imaginatively coloured, with a wild overture, consistently excellent work from the bassoons, spiky strings, pleasingly dry kettledrums, a languid, velvety pianissimo in Prieto's "Un aura amorosa", and a lovely clarinet solo in Noorduyn's "Per pietà". Cupid's nose may be bloodied by the end but this is an alluring and perceptive production.
The English Concert's residency at the Victoria and Albert Museum opened with more broken hearts. I Fagiolini were the guest artists for this programme of Monteverdi madrigals, which ranged from the light-as-air "Chiome d'oro" to the anguished a capella setting of "Sfogava con le stelle", and on to one of the very greatest works of 17th-century Venice, "Hor che'l ciel e la terra". Led by Walter Reiter, the instrumental playing was as assured as the singing. I could have done without the Hamalot choreography of "Gira il nemico", let alone the stray sounds of a piano from somewhere in the museum. But gosh, it's a treat to hear a performance this good, in an interesting venue, for free.
First seen in Paris, Heiner Goebbels's Songs of Wars I Have Seen made its belated debut at the Southbank Centre. An intoxicating blend of electronica, readings from Gertrude Stein's memoirs of Vichy France, Matthew Locke suites and rhapsodic solos for baroque (Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment) and modern (London Sinfonietta) instruments, its beauty and intelligence are diminished by the rather clunky device of separating female and male performers on stage to illustrate domestic and military life. (I doubt the gender divide was that straightforward under German occupation.) Extracted from Surrogate Cities, Goebbels's Suite for Sampler plays a similar game, weaving chaconne-like basslines and time-worn recordings of a Jewish cantor through a collage of jazz, counterpoint and musique concrète. More, please.
'Così fan tutte' (0870 060 6647) to 30 May, then touring
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