05/29/2002 - and 1, 7, 11, 14, 19, 25, 29 June, 4 July 2002
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Così fan tutte
Toby Spence (Ferrando), Christopher Maltman (Guglielmo), Andrew Shore (Don Alfonso), Susan Gritton (Fiordigli), Mary Plazas (Dorabella), Janis Kelly (Despina)
Mark Wigglesworth (conductor), Matthew Warchus (director)
Matthew Warchus' previous work for the ENO was the gentle and ingenious Falstaff shared with Opera North, but he is probably best known as the director of the West End fixture Art. With three actors, Yasmin Reza's play is even more intimate that Così, and like the little Neapolitan sex comedies on which Così is modelled, its up front claims to big ideas are a pretext for purely personal complexities. But Così isn't quite a chamber work, especially when performed in the cavernous Coliseum: it lasts almost three hours plus an interval, and it includes at least two arias and a duet as profound as anything in an epic, plus the full mix of comedy and intrigue. Warchus' approach is (apparently) simply to give every element and its associated music its due and let the singers and orchestra perform.
The result is risky for the ENO: in contrast to their previous perky, very Italian 1950s production, there is no straightforward added value in the concept that can be carried forward until the sets fall to pieces. In addition, Laura Hopkins' sepia sets and costumes, although they are attractive and unobtrusively dream-like in Paule Constable's late-summer lighting, could look tatty in a year or so.
This time round, though, the experience for the audience is most rewarding. Once you get over the novelty of not feeling obliged to follow the big ideas in the production, the opera stands as an amusing and painful study of what it is to be committed to one person and to want someone else. Warchus in a programme note distinguishes between the cynicism of Da Ponte's libretto and the humanity of Mozart's music, and the wood-panelled study that forms a front-curtain to hide scene changes suggests reflection or theory. But there is little reward in conventional generalizations about women, and a lot in the glorious music, passionately performed.
The singers, all ENO regulars, were all excellent and thoroughly prepared. Susan Gritton stood out as Fiordigli partly because her two great arias form the focal points of each act, but also because she was very moving and wonderfully musical. Mary Plazas was scattier as Dorabella, funny but never caricatured. She too sang magnificently. Christopher Maltman was a genial Guglielmo, vocally more solid than Toby Spence's attractive Ferrando. Janis Kelly was both theatrical and realistic as a self-inventing Despina, singing Jeremy Sams' vernacular translation in a nearly plausible London accent. Andrew Shore pretty much upstaged everyone as a sophisticated (Brideshead-ish) misogynist Don Alfonso, repelled by a peck from Despina in her maid's kit but suddenly interested when she is dragged up as the doctor.
Mark Wigglesworth and the ENO orchestra were on equally good form, supporting the singers wonderfully and providing magic for the transition to the garden scene that was missing from the stage.
In the line-up at the end, spot lights picked out and paired off the characters in various ways but in the end each was alone in a single spot. In this production, we knew a lot about each as an individual, though they were all less sure about themselves.