views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Così fan tutte
The Whip, Mayfair
18th June 2014


Oskar McCarthy and Adam Torrance as Guglielmo and Ferrando

Photography © Richard Davenport

One of my favourite things about London is that the arts are absolutely everywhere. Sure, everyone knows about the West End, even the tourists, but the culture fest doesn't end there. There are so many fringe theatres and pop up venues all over the city that all you need to do is open your eyes, and you'll find culture right on your doorstep. The arts should be accessible to everyone and this is an ethos which Pop-up Opera obviously also share, staging classical pieces in and and around the capital which have a very modern twist, an inclusive approach and an affordable ticket price.

In their latest opera, Così fan tutte, sisters Fiordiligi (Eve Daniell) and Dorabella (Chloe Hinton) are madly in love with Ferrando (Adam Torrance) and Guglielmo (Oskar McCarthy), with the feeling mutual. The state of almost-wedded bliss can't be allowed to endure, so naturally the cynical Don Alfonso (Alexander Learmonth) intervenes, critising the faithfulness of the women and challenging the men to prove their fiancées' loyalty. Ferrando and Guglielmo pretend to disappear off to war and return in the most wonderfully ridiculous disguises, attempting to court the women in their capacity as Albanian friends of Alfonso.

This is however no mild Clark Kent/Superman test of fidelity, rather the men try to seduce the other one's partner. Desperate to prove there's no such thing as love, Alfonso bribes Despina (Clementine Lovell) into assisting with his plans, and she matches his smug bitterness with equal measures of good-natured delight. Despina pretends to be a number of different characters - the notary being the most comical of her parts - always flitting in and out of the action and making us laugh. Out of all the characters, she's certainly the most warm and likeable. It is difficult to pick a favourite though, everyone puts in such a strong performance.

The Italian is pleasingly clear enough that there's no need to keep an eye on the subtitles, but if you don't glance up at the projection, you'll miss out on some of the deliciously wicked humour in the paraphrasing. As the show moves on, the gap between Mozart's original text and the English gets wider and wider, and an element of farce comes into play, with references to Downton Abbey and Specsavers. The gist is always correct, but it's a very playful interpretation.

Eve Daniell, Chloe Hinton and Clementine Lovell as Fiordiligi, Dorabella and Despina

Photography © Richard Davenport

Stage director Darren Royston, who also worked on Le docteur miracle, is once again unfazed by the challenges of a small space, with the performers bustling in and out of the bar, up and down the aisle, getting up close and personal with the audience. The proximity of the performers is key to the piece's success, allowing the patrons to follow the story from the deeply exaggerated expressions and fully appreciate the power of their singing. It's very hard to do opera badly and get away with it, but when you're in a tiny venue like The Whip, there's nowhere to hide. The six singers hit and hold every note perfectly, accompanied by pianist Berrak Dyer. Musical director Laïla Barnat really does excel at getting the best out of the performers.

Royston focuses on the humour of Così fan tutte, emphasising the ridiculousness of the plot, rather than the inherent bleakness behind it. The men are certainly not innocent - they pursue the women repeatedly even after being knocked back, they emotionally blackmail them into spending time together - and yet the title only attacks women. When the couples swap back at the end of the piece without any consequence, Torrance looks distressed, but we're meant to laugh at his pain rather than sympathise with him.

As a comedy, this does work fantastically well, and as with the company's last opera, the time just flies. Pop-up Opera's latest show is quite simply another triumph. It's funny, beautifully-executed and will undoubtedly win over plenty of new fans. I could have told you that Così fan tutte would be magnificent without even going to see it, but then I'd have missed out on another thoroughly amazingly night. If there isn't a performance near you, it's worth making a special trip to catch them wherever you can.

Così fan tutte ran from 2nd June to 31st July 2014 in and around London.

Nearest tube station: Bond Street (Central, Jubilee)

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