English Touring Opera is a remarkable outfit. It creates well-staged opera productions that are taken on tour to towns across England, from Cornwall to Cumbria. Along with the St John Passion, the two operas this spring are Handel’s Giulio Cesare and Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte, the last of his three collaborations with the colourful Lorenzo da Ponte, which is here given a sparkling production.
Da Ponte’s cleverly-contrived plot is charming nonsense helped on its way by sublime music. Fiordiligi and Dorabella are two sisters betrothed to army officers Guglielmo and Ferrando, who defend the fidelity of their lovers from the cynical bachelor Don Alfonso. To settle a bet on the matter, they agree to Alfonso’s suggestion that they find themselves called away to war, while he arranges for them to return in disguise and woo each other’s fiancées.
This improbable plot works like a charm with the help of Alfonso’s maid Despina, who assists the ladies and appears in two disguises, once as a doctor who will cure the new lovers of their malady after drinking poison, and later as a notary to legitimate the ladies’ marriages with their new lovers. The old use of electricity to revive the suicidal lovers is replaced here by vibrations — in a saucy manner — and the singers play it all up in style.
The production by Laura Attridge, with its colourful modern designs by Oliver Townsend and attractively lit by Mark Howland, forms a beautifully styled setting for this cynical lesson in youthful naiveté. The cast worked superbly well together with Stephan Loges a wonderfully urbane Don Alfonso, plus Thomas Elwin and Bradley Travis as his young friends Ferrando and Guglielmo.
The enthusiastic befuddlement of their adoring, yet ultimately faithless lovers Dorabella (Martha Jones) and Fiordiligi (Sky Ingram) led to expressive histrionics, well-tempered by the knowing Despina of Jenny Stafford. All delightfully supported by the baton of Holly Mathieson in the orchestra pit, it gives Mozart lovers a chance to enjoy what some consider his most musically sophisticated opera.
This opening was at the Hackney Empire in London, but like other productions from the ETO it sets sail for other ports. Performances continue at Snape Maltings, Poole, Buxton, York, Chester, Canterbury, Malvern, Cambridge, Keswick, Durham, Leicester, Sheffield, and Exeter — details here.