Ariel by Jonathan Dove and Cosi Fan Tutte by W A Mozart
Within the first two bars, my eyes were as moist as the air. It’s been a while since I had this reaction to Opera, let alone live performance. This longing for art was something both the company and audience expressed with a lump in their throat in the meet and greet, before being led through the beautiful herbaceous borders at Waterperry Gardens to the first of two shows of the day, Ariel composed by Jonathan Dove.
Daniella Sicari’s depiction of a historically gender non-specific character in Shakespeare’s drama, a sprite that has been played by Ben Whishaw and Colin Morgan, re-wrote my understanding of Prospero’s truly abusive and tormenting influence over Ariel. Dani’s captivating musicality and sparkling tone, together with her deeply moving immersion into Ariel’s shedding of the trauma from such an abuse, was quite a privilege to witness, let alone her impeccable vocal ability to sing such musical feats while quite literally doing cartwheels on the soggy grass. The direction too showed an immense understanding of the surroundings. Rebecca Meltzer’s interpretation of not only the space but the score clearly helped to define the worlds in which Ariel believed they were living. Having an operatic experience not defined by pearls, red velvet and viewing boxes but liberated by fresh drizzle, the clapping of pigeon’s wings and swathes of English Lavender truly transcended Jonathan’s irking composition. A song cycle I never knew I needed to see until I saw it.
The second serving, though a little less-polished, made way for a laughter-filled evening on the lawn outside the Georgian balcony of the house draped in Wisteria, with lavish picnics and garden chairs in tow. Guy Wither’s vision of an English summer holiday for Mozart’s Comedy Cosi Fan Tutte was greeted with an imminent threat of a storm, which inevitably shortened the interval in hopes of finishing before the downpour. Despite this the orchestra made fine strides through the beloved score and Bertie Baigent’s simultaneous conducting and harpsichord-ing was enthralling.
The somewhat sexist tale of female disloyalty and male deception (a topic some productions have tried to reinterpret to engage modern audiences) did still seem to fall on the stale side, even with a self-assured Despina played beautifully by Zoe Drummond spouting the ‘worthlessness of men’ to try to even the scales. But the witty translation made for some surprising moments of satire and the simple staging certainly didn’t detract from the performance, while the singers were still on-book. The whole cast made an incredibly strong sextet, with stand-out silvery tones of Soprano Isabelle Peters as Fiordiligi, and complimentary brassy tones from Baritone Nicholas Morton as Guglielmo. I longed for more of the charismatic leadership of Oskar McCarthy’s Don Alfonso as he unfurls his plan to teach his friends a thing or two about love, and his and Despina’s chemistry made me wonder if there might have been a third wedding written into the story…
Notable moments too came from some wonderful physical comedy from Damian Arnold’s Ferrando, when even off stage, his clowning as ‘unidentified builder’ caught glances from the audience and triggered a fluttering of giggles. A wonderful lamenting aria about Ferrando was truthfully played by Beth Moxon, as her Dorabella felt entirely actualised. Though we were all physically confined to socially-distant pitches on the grass, my mind might have wondered off into the tale of Cosi and forgotten all about the wider world for a few hours, and frankly that’s all I could have hoped for.
The Waterperry Opera Festival 2020 ran from the 13th to 16th of August, with plans for a full indoor and outdoor season in May 2021, for four fabulous shows over the span of a week, set in their amphitheatre and throughout Waterperry’s lustrous gardens. I’ll be first in line.