Cosi Fan Tutte, Grange Park Opera, Nevill Holt, Leics

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The Independent Culture

Nevill Holt, in Leicestershire, is an idyllic opera venue.

Nevill Holt, in Leicestershire, is an idyllic opera venue. Sited athwart a ridge south of Uppingham, above the Welland valley, this former prep school has been magicked by its owner, the Carphone Warehouse's David Ross, and the conductor Wasfi Kani's Grange Park Opera into a haven for opera buffs. Not pricey, just good.

The opera is performed in a vast silver bubble - a modern- art wonder in itself - offsetting the 13th-century manor's pink-lit dining-hall and atmospheric church, where Sir Thomas Nevill, who died in 1636, is commemorated, along with 56 Holt schoolboy casualties of the Great War. Centuries collide here. They collide, too, in Cosi fan tutte, Lorenzo da Ponte's canny slice of psychological piercing and human insight that - transfigured by Mozart's kaleidoscopic textures and miraculous moodswings - transcends all shifts in social mores. Who cannot ache for Fiordiligi (Lee Bisset, with one hell of a top range), as she, too, aches to submit, to be ruled, yet holds out? And all in 24 hours.

This was a thumping good Cosi: wonders never ceased. Hard-worked bassoons, for a start: indeed, the entire woodwind and horns, guying with comic undercurrents, teasing out cheeky pastiche and coaxing with subtle human empathy. Endless inspired playing (what tone!) from the keyed-up Nevill Holt Orchestra, electrified by Martin Handley's conducting.

These were young(ish) singers, brought on by Nevill Holt's Young Artists scheme. None is yet a "great" voice - although Bisset's tragic "Per pieta" came close - but these were old heads on young shoulders. Even the South African Andrea Palk's Despina, when she briefly beat an audibility problem: her doctor sketch was a joy. Adrian Linford's costumes were also a triumph, especially when he cheekily matches the girls' outfits to his stylish Act II decor).

Yet it was the tenor Benjamin Hulett who made the running. He has made vast strides as an actor: with slick detail, perfectly judged, and a range of relevant flickering gestures, his Ferrando was the tops. The voice can still be a little pinched and wavery, but it's mostly firm, tender, finessed - he could be a top-company Tamino tomorrow.

Karina Lucas (Dorabella) has a vowel problem: some gargly back syllables grew hard to hear; consonants eluded. But there's an attractive mellowness: paired with Bisset, the match was delightful. John Lofthouse (Guglielmo) fared fine in the chatter, and in "Donne mie"; less so Henry Grant Kerswell, whose vital recitative kept the show flowing, but who requires added gravitas lest Don Alfonso seem merely a male Despina.

Generally, however, this Cosi was a treat, and a hoot - in Jeremy Sams' enduring translation, every joke registered. And the director Ptolemy Christie's final twist? Brilliant.

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