Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cosi fan Tutte

6th Covent Garden Revival

The revival of Mozart’s COSI fan TUTTE at Covent Garden, Friday, January 27th, was like a curate’s egg. Not good in all parts. Mozart was OK, Jonathan Miller’s production was OK, and the orchestra played well, the soloists in wind and brass, as usual, bang in the middle of any note. But that was more than you could say of the singers (with one shining exception – Thomas Allen - approaching his 300th assumption of the role of the scheming Don Alfonso). Mozart requires exact intonation without any bulging tones or distortion towards the upper register. These vocal imperfections have become something like my King Charles’ head but it is surely a critic’s responsibility to try and maintain standards.

COSI is a long opera and on this occasion it seemed very long indeed, even a bit tedious. Why? Imperfect singing and a conductor (Sir Colin Davis) who seemed to be on autopilot, not bad but lacking lustre.

I ‘discovered’ Colin when he was doing exuberant and stylish work with the semi-amateur Chelsea Opera Group and got him one of his first assignments, to conduct at Bryanston in 1951 at the Summer School of Music. After a time with the BBC Scottish he became director at Sadlers Wells; the big breakthrough came when he took over a Don Giovanni in the RFH from an indisposed Klemperer. For a time he was in charge of the BBCSO and eventually he got to Covent Garden in 1971 and the LSO I ’95. A recent heart attack seems to have slowed him down, his exuberant freshness seemed absent from this COSI. Tired Mozart is a contradiction in terms.

The Ferrando, Charles Castronove (American) was not new to the house but nearly all
the others were: Guglielmo – Nikolay Borchev (the two ‘Albanians’ were kitted out to look like caricatures of Nigel Kennedy); the other newcomers were Malin Byström (Swedish) and Dorabella, Michèle Losier (Canadian); Rosemary Joshua was a delightful perky Despina. All attractive competent actors. The outstanding performance though, vocally and histrionically, was that of Sir Thomas Allen, bang in tune and a joy to watch.

After the performance Tony Hall , Administrator of Covent Garden, made a presentation to Thomas and congratulated him on his 40th year at the Garden where he has sung over 50 roles, a warm high baritone voice and an ability to become the character he is portraying. He is easily the best Don Giovanni I have seen and his portrayals of Billy Budd, Wozzeck, the Count in Figaro and Gianni Schicchi were all benchmarks and a marvel to experience. (He’s a nice bloke too!)

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