Opera Scotland

Così fan tutte 2021Scottish Opera

Read more about the opera Così fan tutte

During the wretched period of Covid-19 lockdown, Scottish Opera's enterprise was remarkable.  The company produced several performances on film to be shown on-line.  These ranged from a new chamber work (The Narcissistic Fish) to older small scale pieces - The Telephone and Diary of One who Disappeared.  Eventually they worked out ways to perform more traditional items such Così fan tutte and Hansel and Gretel.  It is to be hoped that most of these can be revived in some form of live performance.

The first to see the light of day in 'normal' venues was this production of Così fan tutte, with young performers from the company's Emerging Artists programme, directed by Roxana Haines.  Two performances were announced, first at the Lammermuir Festival, with a repeat at the Perth Concert Hall.

The Perth evening turned out to be a hugely entertaining affair, received with joy by the socially spaced and masked audience.   The orchestra was spread across the stage as for a normal concert.  The chorus of a dozen were placad behind the orchestra, evenly spaced and not conspicuous to audience view until they sang.  This left a generous apron stage area for the six soloists to act in.  They were able to follow the conductor behind them by means of a couple of discreetly placed monitors at balcony level.

Costumes were modern. There was no set, and the props were limited to a small table, a few seats, a couple of plants and a telescope on a tripod (hardly used).  The period was of little importance.  The staging was lively, full of action, but kept simple.  Some musical intros, including the overture, contained little sequences of irrelevant stage 'business', but these were also largely harmless.  Audience members at the side of the stalls sometimes encountered issues with the balance between band and singers, and between the singers themselves in ensemble, where they spread across the stage.

Musically, otherwise, the performance was quite delightful, with plenty of lovely sounds from the orchestra - very crisp delivery when required, and beautiful woodwinds, essential in this piece.  The brief entries for the chorus were delivered with superb punch, making an unusual impact.  Great credit is due to Stuart Stratford.

The sextet of soloists achieved a beautiful blend, while maintaining distinctive dramatic and musical personalities.  The performance was delivered in idiomatic and crisply enunciated Italian - the supertitle screen, at centre high up, was bigger and more legible than is usually the case.  The translation was frequently witty - though not always entirely accurate - is it ever?

The Don Alfonso of Michael Mofidian began a bit too loud - perhaps a legacy of the previous performance at the massive and resonant Haddington church - but quickly settled.  His Alfonso dominated the stage with ease, and his remarkable black-toned bass, not often heard in this role - gave the character a distinctly Mephistophelean tint.  Catriona Hewitson was an excellent Despina, the only objection being her deliberately flat-toned lawyer - a step too far, perhaps.

The quartet was musically quite superb, and blended beautifully in ensemble.  If Fiordiligi's 'Come scoglio' in the first act was fine, her delivery of the wonderful 'Per pietà' in the second was very special indeed.  The tenor, Shengzhi Ren, revealed a beautiful voice and technique, and gave an excellent, sweet-toned performance of 'Un' aura amorosa'.  Arthur Bruce used the bass element in his voice to unusually powerful effect, and Margo Arsane made a delightful, weak-willed Dorabella.

One musical quibble is that if Fiordiligi (Charlie Drummond) was given her second aria, the others' opportunities were all cut.  This used to be a tradition - it is hard to believe that in the old days even 'Per pieta' fell a victim to the scissors - but the other arias are well worth hearing.

In all, this whole enterprise is worthy of extended life.  It would be nice to think that the company's full-scale production of Così, directed by Sir David McVicar in 2009, could be revived with just these same artists to work on it.

Performance Cast

Ferrando a young army officer

Shengzhi Ren

Guglielmo another officer, Ferrando's friend

Arthur Bruce

Don Alfonso a middle-aged bachelor

Michael Mofidian

Fiordiligi a young lady from Ferrara, engaged to Guglielmo

Charlie Drummond

Dorabella Fiordiligi's sister, engaged to Ferrando

Margo Arsane

Despina maidservant to the sisters

Catriona Hewitson

Performance DatesCosì fan tutte 2021

Map List

St Mary's Church, Haddington | Haddington

9 Sep, 19.00

Perth Concert Hall | Perth

11 Sep, 19.00

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