Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Così fan tutte at Holland Park
The atmosphere at Opera Holland Park is, quite literally, electric — a summer storm is brewing and thunder can be heard rolling in the distance as the audience take their seats for the opening night of Mozart’s Così fan tutte.
One of the three operas Mozart wrote with Marriage of Figaro librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, Così fan tutte tells the story of two sisters (Dorabella and Fiordiligi) whose fiancés (Ferrando and Guglielmo) decide to test their loyalties in a game of mistaken identity and partner swapping. Each man, disguised as an “Albanian”, flirts with the other’s lover in an attempt to prove their women will remain faithful. This plan backfires spectacularly as wine flows and seductive arias are exchanged: “Don’t be shy,” urges the disguised Guglielmo, “let two lighting flashes strike for a moment here.” The point at which Dorabella succumbs to his advances is a frothy delight: the lovers lie sprawled on stage as they spar, flirt and twitter through their duet on Il core vi dono—“I give you my heart.” Equally charming is the sisters’ playful discussion of which man they will have their respective dalliances with. “I will take the dark one,” trills Dorabella, “who seems to me more fun.” With its mischievousness and naïve decadence, it is easy to see why this opera was considered risqué by conservative 19th and early 20th century standards. Tonight, however, the story provokes much good-natured laughter from the audience and is a pleasure to behold.
The half-outdoor, half-indoor site of Opera Holland Park is as crucial to the success of show as lighting or set design. A combination of the fading evening sun, the rustling wind in the surrounding trees and the lively violins of the overture make for an atmospheric and memorable opening scene. When the soldiers set off for war by ship, Dorabella, Fiordiligi and Don Alfonso sing a beautiful trio entitled: Soave sia il vento — “May the winds be soft”. As the marquee billows gently against the gathering storm outside, it feels almost as if we are being swept out to sea with them. For the magical venue alone, this production of Così fan tutte is worth setting aside an evening for over the summer.
That is not to say that the performances are not equally magical. Joana Seara is mesmerizing as the scheming maid Despina, her voice as suited to the light, comic arias as it is to her growling, masculine performances as a disguised doctor and notary. Best of all is Elizabeth Llewellyn’s turn as Fiordiligi — her rich-toned, seemingly effortless delivery of Per pietà, ben mio, perdona — “Please, my beloved, forgive” — resulting in rapturous applause and calls of “bravo!” from the audience.
Così fan tutte is an ideal starting point for the opera novice. At just over three hours long, and with only one interval, it is engaging, bubbly and quick-footed. Although the storyline is fraught and complex, with the lovers ending up far from happily ever after, there is enough here to satisfy the need for fun and romance. A captivating performance from beginning to end.
Opera Holland Park’s production of Così fan tutte will be performed on June 13th, 16th, 18th, 21st, 24th, (matinee 2pm), 28th and July 4th and 7th at 7:15pm.