Saturday, 20 February 2016

Opera Vera: Così fan tutte

(Photo from www.operavera.co.uk)
Whenever you're in the piazza of Covent Garden you pass a church that tends to be ignored, mostly due to the hustle and bustle of Central London, but Actors' Church is, in fact, a unique space for small-stage productions like Opera Vera's Così fan tutte which I was delighted to see on the Valentine's weekend. Not only did conductor, Philip Hesketh and the 10 musicians of the Opera Vera Players give an imaginative and sharp-witted performance, they managed to present the fine subtleties and characteristics inhabited by its hilarious fiancée-swapping plot in what was regarded as Mozart's most controversial opera.

For Opera Vera, they set their comedy in today’s cannot-live-without-my-smartphone world, by the coastal lines of the Italian sea. In the background, a scrolled down screen pans images of the Italian mountains alongside the beautiful coast, then on the left a cameraman sets up his gear for what could be a reality TV show. Queue camera! The charming philosopher, Don Alfonso (Håkan Vramsmo) glares into focus, quickly sorts out his hair and gives a cheeky smile that everyone in the audience can see on screen.

Ferrando (Tom Morss) and Guiglelmo (Peter Brooke) are our optimistic and adamant fiancés assured that their other halves Dorabella (Camilla Bull) and Fiordiligi (Susan Jiwey) would never stray into another man's arms, and so they bargain with Don Alfonso to their defence. This is where the camera came in and acted as a portal for these men to speak freely about their love gamble. Yet in this yoga, selfie laden, strawberry and creams, barbeques-at-the-ready universe, men dressed as if they had walked off a Middle-Eastern desert can still turn the righteous heads of fiancées.

With many excuses to laugh and giggle, there were a fabulously polished cast that revealed hidden talents I hadn't heard before. Tom Morss and Peter Brooke gave a comical performance as the strange men who pretended to poison themselves, in the name of love – of course! Morss firmly executed some serious singing, particularly when his character realises he might have been wrong about his lover, while Brooke gave a refined and terrific performance as an overly complacent Guiglielmo.

Susan Jiwey, as Fiordiligi, is a hidden gem whose voice shined throughout the halls. Clear and gracious, her voice rose high and had a dimension of sophistication that I hope to hear again in the near future. Camilla Bull's Dorabella likes to smash things on the food table and create a big mess. She also met the challenges of her role singing beautifully with Jiwey and Vramsmo in “Soave sia il vento". (It sounded so good, I had to close my eyes!)

And Caroline Kennedy was the feline Despina dressed like the ladies' PA, with a realistic outlook of men and women and of the belief that women should be as naughty as the opposite sex. I'm no stranger to Kennedy's voice and found it a pleasure to see and hear her again as the multilinguist witch doctor and clumsy notary.

James McOran-Campbell and Alexander Anderson-Hall's Così is a brilliant illustration of how classical operas framed in a modern settings can really work, and, indeed, be very relevant. Gender stereotypes aside, Mozart's opera eventually became popular by the 20th century and today - where both men and women can be mutually 'stupid' and it, really, isn't a big deal.


This production has ended. To find out more about Opera Vera, please go to their website (here), and follow them on Twitter on: @operavera (here).