Andrew Palmer, Group Editor

A Cosy And Entertaining Cosi Fan Tutte

Antony Gregory as Ferrando, Heather Lowe as Dorabella, Quirijn de Lang as Don Alfonso, Henry Neill as Guglielmo, Alexandra Lowe as Fiordiligi and Gillene Butterfield as Despina.
Photo credit: ©James Glossop
Antony Gregory as Ferrando, Heather Lowe as Dorabella, Quirijn de Lang as Don Alfonso, Henry Neill as Guglielmo, Alexandra Lowe as Fiordiligi and Gillene Butterfield as Despina. Photo credit: ©James Glossop
Who said opera couldn’t be fun? Following on from its wonderful production of Albert Herring, Opera North continues its new season with yet another accessible and entertaining production.

Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, subtitled 'The School for Lovers', has numerous pantomimic moments. All the elements in this 18th-century farce point to the fragility and robustness of human nature: duplicitousness, desire, faithfulness, loyalty, and the all-conquering emotion of love.

As with most farces, where the interchangeability of characters or lovers is part of the plot, the end is predictable, but why should that spoil a production that has an excellent cast, fine music, and an orchestra that glistens with Mozartian iridescence?

Alexandra Lowe as Fiordiligi, Gillene Butterfield as Despina and Heather Lowe as Dorabella.
Photo credit: ©James Glossop
Alexandra Lowe as Fiordiligi, Gillene Butterfield as Despina and Heather Lowe as Dorabella. Photo credit: ©James Glossop
The action is all set within Tim Albery’s ingenious set design: a gargantuan camera obscura, which he cleverly uses as a metaphor to invite the audience to view the scene behind closed doors, which points to a world of misogyny.

Philosopher and cynic Don Alfonso (Dutch baritone Quirijn de Lang), the ‘quintessential figure of the Enlightenment', bets brothers Ferrando (Anthony Gregory) and Guglielmo (Henry Neill) that the fidelity of their fiancées, the two sisters Fiordiligi (Alexandra Lowe) and Dorabella (Heather Lowe), not sisters in real life despite the surname, will crumble within a day if tempted. Alfonso's wager is accepted, and a plan is hatched where the two brothers announce they are leaving to ‘go to war’.

The two men disguise themselves as bohemian Albanians, one with moustache and set about testing the philosopher’s theory. It is not looking good for Alfonso, so he engages the unscrupulous maid Despina (Gillene Butterfield), who sets about persuading her employers that, with the men gone, a little unfaithfulness is not a bad thing. Meanwhile, Alfonso instructs the men on how to woo the two ladies. The deception begins, as does the fun.

Gillene Butterfield as Despina, Alexandra Lowe as Fiordiligi and Anthony Gregory as Ferrando.
Photo credit: ©James Glossop
Gillene Butterfield as Despina, Alexandra Lowe as Fiordiligi and Anthony Gregory as Ferrando. Photo credit: ©James Glossop
At one point, the two disguised brothers, realising their seductive behaviour was not working, feigned death by pretending to take arsenic poison and lying dead on the floor. It’s at this point that the scheming Despina masquerades as a doctor and produces two horseshoe magnets that she waves over the two brothers. The comical vibrating actors' twitching is hilarious; it also shows the performers' core strength—something that they use to the full in their singing. Throughout, Gillene Butterfield’s comedic precision timing as Despina adds to the brilliance of the production.

The sisters are identically dressed at the beginning, but as their amorous exploits begin and the temperature rises, set and costume designer Tobias Hoheisel has them dress in a way more suited to their personalities and the situation they are being lured into. It's all quite risqué, but a certain amount of expectation is, I'm sure, in everyone's mind as Act 2 nears its denouement.

The ensemble uses their faces and expressions to great effect, perfectly capturing the nuances and subtleties.

The production is sung in English, and the rhyming couplets delivered with rhythmic vitality add to the enjoyment. Although there were times where the audience laughed a tad too quickly at the jokes due to the text being projected on the screens; the performers’ diction however, was clear, every word delivered with lucidity.

Henry Neill as Guglielmo and Heather Lowe as Dorabella.
Photo credit: ©James Glossop
Henry Neill as Guglielmo and Heather Lowe as Dorabella. Photo credit: ©James Glossop
The blend from the well-chosen cast is excellent, with such tremendous breath control, and the balance between each of them is impeccable, as demonstrated in perhaps the most famous moment of Act 1, the trio, 'Soave sia il vento' (‘May the wind be gentle'), sublime singing from Alfonso, Dorbaella, and Fiordiligi.

Alexander's Lowe's Act 1 'Come Scoglio' coloratura is a masterclass in its agility and technical skill.

The duets between Dorabella and Fiordiligi are marvellously communicated, with poise and composure beautifully complementing each other. The sensuality is captivating.

Henry Neill as Guglielmo, Quirijn de Lang as Don Alfonso and Anthony Gregory as Ferrando.
Photo credit: ©James Glossop
Henry Neill as Guglielmo, Quirijn de Lang as Don Alfonso and Anthony Gregory as Ferrando. Photo credit: ©James Glossop
Anthony Gregory’s polished tone is also balanced with Henry Neill’s lovely baritone. Quirijn de Lang's narration is also pleasant, and it is a shame that there are no real set pieces for his part.

Clemens Schuldt keeps everything in check in the pit, with his orchestra responding well to his baton. They play with vigour and, when needed, beautifully sensitive and expressive playing, drawing the audience into moments of intimacy as the pit musicians cushion their accompaniments with expressive textures and a lightness that never intrudes. Each section is enjoyable to hear, especially on this occasion, with the woodwind accompaniment and later the horns. Such a striking sound.

So, as the wager starts to unravel, Despina's deception is revealed, this time she is impersonating a lawyer, and it looks like the wrong sister will marry the wrong brother.

All that is left to do is for Alfonso to turn everything on its head and restore the status quo, which he does magnificently: he wins his bet, the right pairings get together, and all is well.

Opera North’s production is a cosy, winning performance and one not to be missed.

Henry Neill as Guglielmo, Heather Lowe as Dorabella, Gillene Butterfield as Despina, Alexandra Lowe as Fiordiligi and Anthony Gregory as Ferrando.
Photo credit: ©James Glossop
Henry Neill as Guglielmo, Heather Lowe as Dorabella, Gillene Butterfield as Despina, Alexandra Lowe as Fiordiligi and Anthony Gregory as Ferrando. Photo credit: ©James Glossop
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