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Pocket opera production overcomes the odds

The wedding scene. Photo: Peter Hislop

Opera / “Così Fan Tutte”, Canberra Sinfonia and National Opera. At Albert Hall, June 25. Reviewed by JAYDEN LOHE.

IN a joint production with , under the baton of Leonard Weiss, National Opera, led by artistic director Peter Coleman-Wright, delivered a delightful and exciting performance of Mozart’s much-loved comic opera, Così Fan Tutte”.

Employing the “pocket opera” format, the 90-minute production was sung in English in a translation from Italian by Amanda Holden.

This allowed newcomers to opera to easily follow the amusing story of two military officers, Ferrando (Charles Hudson) and Guglielmo (Jason Bensen), whose cynical, bachelor friend Don Alfonso (Sitiveni Talei) convinces them to undertake a plot to test the faithfulness of their fiancés, Fiordiligi (Keren Dalzell) and Dorabella (Michaella Edelstein), holding the begrudging belief that all women are unfaithful.

It was National Opera’s first production of the year, having been forced to cancel previous performances due to COVID-19-related issues.

The production began with a condensed version of the overture, played energetically by Canberra Sinfonia, and we were then introduced to the male characters of Ferrando, Guglielmo, and Don Alfonso. Due to covid, the cast member for Don Alfonso was replaced by Sitiveni Talei singing his part at side stage and Coleman-Wright performing silently on-stage. Despite these logistical issues, they gave a smooth and natural performance. 

Centre, Peter Coleman-Wright stepping in. Photo: Peter Hislop.

We were then introduced to the men’s fiancés, Fiordiligi (Keren Dalzell) and Dorabella (Michaella Edelstein), together showering praise over their men. Both sang with a clear, rich tone that filled the hall, and the audience clearly appreciated the companionable chemistry between the two. 

The production came to its high point as Fiordiligi and Dorabella were the subject of attempts at flirtation by their fiancés-in-disguise to test the women’s fidelity, and the cast sang well and injected much comedy in their interactions. This was especially apparent in the normally dry plot-moving “recitative” sections, where humour helped to sustain the action. 

Moreover, Erika Tolano’s role as Despina, the cunning maid and waitress to Fiordiligi and Dorabella, was especially convincing as she too partook in the plot against the women. 

Although Fiordiligi and Dorabella eventually fell for the plot, all was forgiven, with Don Alfonso vindicated for his cynical beliefs about women (hence così fan tutte: “all women are like that”). 

The production came to a joyful end with the cast singing in chorus. These moments when the cast came together to sing were thrilling and perhaps the best parts of the production. This sense of excitement and purpose was sometimes lost in some solo arias.

All in all, National Opera’s production was a great success, performed energetically and comically with great chemistry between the cast, aided by a strong, musical backing by Canberra Sinfonia despite some slight balance and tuning issues. 

Its pocket-opera format made the opera more accessible to the audience, and the production was a true triumph in the face of all the confronting challenges of the pandemic. What a wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon in Canberra in winter!

Conductor Leonard Weiss and the Sinfonia. Photo Peter Hislop.

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One Response to Pocket opera production overcomes the odds

colin walters says: June 26, 2022 at 6:38 pm

It was a great effort in the teeth of many problems. Well done National Opera and I hope you haven’t given up on La Rondine which is perfect for your format.

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