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Mozart Così Fan Tutte and Handel Rinaldo

Royal College of Music International Opera School
Michael Rosewell, Conductor
Lee Blakeley, Director
Adrian Linford, Designer

2nd cast, Britten Theatre, Kensington, 4 July 2011, 2 p.m.

[Photo : Chris Christodoulou]

Set in an ambiguous sun-drenched middle-eastern "Naples" in the early twentieth century, we found the Royal College's new Cosi was better than the previous one there (Ian Judge/Alison Nalder, set in the late 1950s).

It made for a happy afternoon in their first experiment with a matinée, which attracted an appreciative audience, if not a quite full house in one of this hot July's hottest days.

The plot is hatched in a steaming Turkish bath [L] and there was no concern for architectural veracities or logicality in Adrian Linford's adaptable set for Director Lee Blakeley's production, grounded firmly in the early twentieth century. Students were deployed very sensitively to fill out the settings for the improbable deceptions and consequential revelations of the six central characters, with the cynical proof that indeed cosi fan tutte...

Opera School Director Michael Rosewell was at th2a Vanbrugh Hill
London London SE3 7UFe helm and the orchestra was impeccable in this last of 5 performance. Some of the singers had a little difficulty maintaining his swift tempi through arias and concerted numbers, in which diction tended to slip.

The essential surtitles [R] were easier to follow whilst watching the stage from upstairs.

The Opera School is able to field two casts, showing strength of the student body, several of them heading into professional life and likely to come to notice in the future.

The two women were well matched vocally and Despina shone, manipulating her mistresses with great aplomb in her disguises. The baritone was the more assured lover and the tenor acted well but his phrasing in the arias lacked ultimate musicality as yet.

But by and large the show was indeed "filled with warmth, humour and of course, wonderful singing" [Bachtrack].

Handel Rinaldo

Trinity Laban Opera Ensemble at Blackheath

Trinity Laban has long had a lower profile than the London conservatoires which have vaunted International Opera Schools, and Trinity has mostly used other venues than its own, but generally with great resourcefulness and ingenuity (q.v. e.g/ our reviews of King Arthur & Albert Herring).

The generous, glossy A4 programme book lists everyone in large print and with pages devoted to their CVs; nothing unfortunately on the production, updated to 20C, by Harry Fehr/Tom Oldham & Tim Bray, whose lighting greatly enhanced the clever staging with the warring factions separated by the orchestra; unfortunately none of Tas Kyprianou's photos show this general view.

The orchestra under Nicholas Kraemer was magnificent; sample their brave Overture on YouTube. Good historically-aware string playing, a fine oboe, a delicious sopranino recorder...

The singing by this second cast was estimable; I was especialy glad that Rinaldo was taken by a high tenor/counter tenor, Gordon Waterson, a name to look out for (in the other cast the role was taken by Zarah, a woman singer...).

The direction of the acting was unfussy and well achieved by Trinity's ensemble cast in the most natural way.

The production of this long opera was marred by an unforgivable economy; there were no surtitles, and the synopsis (they're never easy to grasp in Handel) could not be consulted in the dark; torches ought to have been supplied for every audience member...

That battle against the purists has been won long ago, even for opera in English. [q.v. RCM's Cosi, above].

Nonetheless, from reading reviews (Musical Pointers was not invited to Sussex) we were likely better served in London; Glyndebourne's Rinaldo, which coincided with Trinity's, might have been a wasted journey by comparison:-

Robert Carsen shows how the work can be salvaged - - Rinaldo's heroics are merely the escapist fantasy of a bullied schoolboy - - the culminating battle in which Rinaldo's men vanquish the infidels is a bizarre game that could only have been invented on the playing fields of an English public school - - school blazers, corporal punishment and bondage all seemed to be enjoyed by Glyndebourne regulars.... [Evening Standard]

- - Carsen’s reductive facetiousness scarcely matches the heroics and grand passions of the original. Vocal standards are presentable. While conductor Ottavio Dantone draws enticing sounds from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, there’s a lack of dynamism. [The Stage]

Maybe Glyndebourne's take on the First Crusade will make it to DVD...

Peter Grahame Woolf