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Mozart – Cosi fan tutte

Opera Holland Park

3 & 5 July 2006

Conductor – Leo Hussain

Director – Annilese Miskimmon

Designer – Peter Rice

Lighting – Colin Grenfell


Fiordiligi – Sarah-Jane Davies

Dorabella – Doreen Curran

Ferrando – Thomas Walker
Gugliemo – Toby Stafford-Allen

Despina – Lillian Watson
Alfonso – Charles Johnston


There is never a dull moment in this Cosi fan tutte set in a fashionable English seaside resort at the turn of the nineteenth century.


Using both side stages, director Annalese Miskimmon employs a sizable chorus and children's music theatre group to display a panoply of period entertainment and lifestyle, observed with meticulous historical detail in Peter Rice's elegant sets and costumes.


The action begins on a golf course, Alonso's game is clearly not going well, and he reacts by taunting Ferrando and Gugliemo for their gullible faith in their sweethearts. In no time at all the plot has been set up and the wager is on.


The girls are meanwhile boarding at a local hotel, chaperoned by Despina, more of a governess on this occasion than a maid. Lillian Watson is quick to seize the advantage of this improved social status, evincing the most genteel of mannerisms and deportment whilst she stirs up the mischief.


The men are summoned away to the African wars – in full scarlet uniforms and equipped with swords and rifles – returning in disguise as explorers from the same continent, Gerald Durrell style, with “a zoo in their luggage”.


The serious business of enjoying a seaside holiday soon reasserts itself. On go the blazers and boaters and out come croquet hoops and mallets, targets for archery, a tandem (Fiordiligi sports a splendid example of the daring new bloomer suits), and there is of course a bathing beach. The children have shrimping jars, there are ice creams, a balloon seller, and a Punch and Judy show. The crowd includes collectors for the Salvation Army and an advocate of Votes for Women - not a suffragette at this time, probably a member of the less militant Women's Franchise League, dressed in their green and purple colour coding. I soon lost count of the number of props, but was reliably informed that there were over 300, close to a record for an operatic production.


It could be considered over-ambitious in a venue where stage rehearsal time would be minimal, and a little confusion crept in once or twice, but it was enormous fun and made good sense of da Ponte's story. I loved the wealth of character detail: Fiordiligi never managing to get the hang of opening the door of the hotel lift, Despina smoking a surreptitious cigarette ….

Musically, I was equally pleased. Sarah-Jane Davies shone as Fiordiligi, singing with warmth and clarity, soaring to the top of her register with apparent ease in her two big arias. Toby Stafford-Allan made a strong voiced Gugliemo, delivering a particularly embittered Donne mie, la fate a tanti a tanti, and contrasting well with Thomas Walker's lighter-voiced and more sentimental Ferrando. Charles Johnston's Don Alfonso was a little hard to read, and seemed rather passive for an arch manipulator. Conductor Leo Hussein is new to the podium at Holland Park, and his relaxed style seemed ideal for this show.


© Serena Fenwick


This was a special Cosi and the golf game was a brilliantly plausible conceit to set up the wager. Muiltiplicity of props (all carefully in period) apart, the fuller use of chorus (including children) was apt at the seaside, and set me wondering why Mozart (and Wagner too) are so sparing with opera choruses?


The darker side of Cosi was not glossed over. Musically all was well and perfectly synchronized at the later performance, and Leo Hussein directed the music winningly - not so aggressively assertive as a Harnoncourt. It was an evening of perfect counterpoint between ears and eyes; the on stage fun never undermining or distracting unduly from Mozart's imperishable music, the production engendering a range of responses collected on the Opera Critic website.


A full set of delightful images will soon be online there, and also at http://www.rbkc.gov.uk/ohparchive/photographs/

It was timely to see OHP's Cosi soon after the admirable, though less unconventional, current production televised from Glyndebourne. (Editor)