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Mozart Cosi fan tutte

Royal Academy Opera directed by John Cox
conductor Jane Glover; designer Gary McCann
Sir Jack Lyons Theatre, Royal Academy of Music 22 November 2010

London's RAM has put another spoke into the wheel of the excessive costliness of opera productions at UK's "main" houses in these hard time, so elaborate - which they think their audiences expect - that they usually have to be shared internationally for financial viability!

But although John Cox's contemporary Cosi (for an Academy and conceived as in an Academy's Behavioural Science Department) doesn't fuss over scenery and scene changes, it is no cut price show. Having presented his take on Mozart/da Ponte on an ideally simplified and serviceable classroom set (Gary McCann), original yet somehow with hindsight obvious, he allows us to concentrate on the interactions amongst his cast, who present, in an imaginary now, Mozart ensemble playing and singing of a quality which, in my younger days, was not to be expected other than at John Christie's Glyndebourne.

RAM Opera's compact and inexpensive programme book is a model of how those things should be; Cox provides synopsis and a Director's Note of compelling interest*; and Glover a perspective on Mozart and Da Ponte's collaborations, their disenchantment with the Enlightenment, and emphasis on words - 'verse' - "the most indispensible element for music" (Mozart to his father, 1781). Soon after relishing Don Giovanni in an ideal concert performance it was good to be reminded that finally opera must be judged and enjoyed best of all in the theatre. John Cox's direction of each character's reactions to the others and to the fast changing situations is a joy throughout.

On 22 November there were no serious weaknesses in Royal Academy Opera's first cast. The three men [above] were equally excellent and the women strongly individuated; the feisty but slightly undisciplined Fiordiligi is already a finished team actress, will benefit from a little more vocal training; her sister [R] was vocally more even; they made a fine interacting twosome. [In the second cast, it was again the Dorabella who I enjoyed best - R, below - is Fiordiligi too demanding a part for students, one carrying near-impossible expectations?]

The Irish Despina [L] was perfect in her role, taking her several parts with zest and only at the end, when she rejects a final payment for her part in Alfonso's so succesful experiment, do human scruples about the plot's wanton cruelty kick in.

The singers did show a little tiredness in the long second act, and Jane Glover's stylish and well trained orchestra too; unusually these days we had a reminder of how difficult and fickle an instrument used to be the French horn... One cliché forlighting directors to avoid is the low spotlight, fine forcreating sinister effects (e.g.Katya), but inappropriate here as for Dorabella's gigantic shadow during her second act aria...

Placing the whole in an active teaching institution gave the chorus members far more rewarding and sigificant parts in the whole than usual in Mozart operas. One is always glad of the (now rare) chance to listen to an Overture without the distraction of stage business, but in this case there would have been a strong argument to have the end of the lecture session visible (silently), with the clearing of the classroom going straight on to the men's Trio without an opportunity for applause before the drama begins?

Only two more performances!

Peter Grahame Woolf

More good photos at maximilianvanlondon.com


* Director's Note [extract]

Producing Cosi fan tutte at an academy has a certain rightness to it. First, the opera is preoccupied with teaching and learning - indeed its subtitle is 'The School for Lovers'. Secondly, has not an academy the obligation to put its principles to experimental proof? All we have to accept is that our academy has other courses than music, one of which is 'Behavioural Science'.

The head of this department, Alfonso, is developing the scientific hypothesis that woman's identity is genetically programmed to be promiscuous: woman by nature is neither monogamous nor faithful. - -

The experiment proceeds; the women become the objects of carefully calibrated stimuli, bringing into play all the dramatic skills of the men. Only when Alfonso's hypothesis [L] is verified do the women become aware that they have been the unwitting subjects of research - - at the same time the men, in carrying forward the experiment, have revealed their own nature - - they are equally promiscuous themselves. The experiment has proved a truth about men as well as women? If so, what should be the ethical basis of love between them?

John Cox



Orpheus in the Underworld

Director - Liam Steel
Conductor - Michael Rosewell
Designer - Chloe Laamford

Royal College of Music, 29 November 2010

The latest production of Orpheus in the Underworld (1858) was visually impressive and extremely inventive. Tthe singing was of a high general standard, with the introduction of two eye-catching erotic dancers a nice stroke.

The chorus sang with a will and erupted around us in the auditorium.

The main reservation is about Offenbach himself, whose compositions are (to us) somehow less enduring on repetition than G & S's of 1871 to 1896.

So it was a case of admiring more than enjoying; the unrelenting jollity of the music proved enervating, but the audience as a whole was clearly enjoying it, and rightly so.

Extreme transport difficulties that day decided us to leave at the interval.*

I note that RCM is to do Patience next term; a favourite G & S of ours, which we have very recently seen on Sky Arts TV in a fine version from Sydney Opera House.


* Clearly we missed an even more riotous second half - see Classical Source.


Cosi Images: : Mark Whitehouse/Royal Academy of Music