Review: Ariel/Cosi fan tutte, Waterperry Opera Festival
It was a moment to cherish. With an audience arranged in a socially distanced way around Waterperry’s lovely rose garden, the Waterperry Opera Festival – against considerable odds, and in a reduced version – sprang into life.
The honour of uttering the first notes of this special three-day festival fell to the Australian/British soprano Daniella Sicari in Jonathan Dove’s unaccompanied song cycle, Ariel.
An exploration of the life of Shakespeare’s famous spirit after finally gaining its freedom. This 25 minute piece makes great demands of its solo performer, but Sicari rose admirably to the challenge, enthralling the audience with a strong, heartfelt performance that not only showcased her considerable singing and acting skills but threw in some fine acrobatics as well.
“there was a distinctly festive atmosphere among an audience weary of lockdown and determined to enjoy this rare treat”
After that very tasty appetiser came the main feast of the evening – Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte. In normal circumstances this would have been performed in the amphitheatre, but instead we were given a semi-staged performance against the backdrop of the splendid 18th century Waterperry House, with the audience able to enjoy both the performance and interval picnics in socially-distanced ‘pods’ on the main lawn.
The pandemic that forced this change of plan seemed a million miles away as the wine and champagne flowed, and there was a distinctly festive atmosphere among an audience weary of lockdown and determined to enjoy this rare treat.
Guy Withers’ direction of this Mozart classic was inspired, bringing out the general silliness of the plot to great effect and compensating for the lack of performance space by making brilliant use of the balcony and upper floor windows of Waterperry House. His witty new English translation was a hit, too, a particular gem being ‘Though you’ve broken my resistance, I must keep my social distance’ – which drew one of the biggest audience laughs of the evening.
The cast romped their way through the piece with gusto, and there was some outstanding singing and acting all round. Isabelle Peters, an excellent Pamina in last year’s The Magic Flute, once again impressed as Fiordiligi, while Beth Moxon (2nd Lady last year) was also in sparkling form as the more pliant Dorabella.
Nicholas Morton and Damian Arnold had a ball as Guglielmo and Ferrando, morphing from soldiers into a pair of slightly camp builders with some impressive dance moves. Oskar McCarthy’s Don Alfonso – a vicar in this production – was clearly enjoying his manipulation of the four young lovers. Despina – a gardener rather than the usual maid – was his willing accomplice, sung and acted with delightful chirpiness by Zoe Drummond.
The ensemble played magnificently throughout under the energetic conducting of music director Bertie Baigent.
This was a truly wonderful occasion, delivered by a company that consistently impresses with its youthful energy, enthusiasm and flair.
Huge kudos to Waterperry Opera Festival for having the courage and resourcefulness to step away from the internet and bring us some live music to brighten up these unprecedented times. Moments to cherish indeed.