Bejewelled turbans and swirling moustaches had us all seduced

The second Diva Opera production in this year’s programme at the Great Barn in Fingest was a triumph of comic pastiche. The cast of six accompanied by music director Bryan Evans on the piano performed Mozart’s Così fan tutte directed by Cameron Menzies on Sunday evening to a full house. Diva Opera, founded in 1997, is a chamber opera company touring across the UK and abroad, and this was their 12th year at the Great Barn. It is a very nice set-up that Sylvia Crowther has created at her home in Fingest. Not only is making a theatre space an excellent use of a lovely old barn, but audience members were made to feel welcome from the moment they arrived to park in the paddock. Everyone was expected personally, even down to the seating plan for interval picnics in the huge heated marquee, making for a warm and informal atmosphere. Fingest Great Barn Opera raised money for charity – this year for Child Bereavement UK and the SMA Trust- and we heard from representatives of both.

Mozart’s Così fan tutte is a story of wit and deception. Ferrando and Guglielmo boasting of the virtue of their lovers, are persuaded by their friend Don Alfonso to test their constancy. Pretending to leave as soldiers for battle, they return disguised as “foreigners” from the East with bejewelled turbans and swirling moustaches, and set about trying to seduce Fiordiligi and Dorabella. The sisters put up a good fight but in the end succumb to the amorous advances encouraged by Despina the maid who has been bribed by Don Alfonso. It is only after marriage vows have been sealed that all is revealed. But all is well in the end, as the gentlemen are resigned to the title of the piece (“women are like that”).

Sung in the original Italian with English surtitles, the vocal blend was well balanced and there was some excellent acting. All credit to the Italian coach Fiona Murray for the clear diction. The choreography was a clever adaptation for this venue, addressing the challenge of an audience seated on either side of the stage area, and the ensemble singing all the more impressive despite no conductor and shifting sight lines between the singers. Matthew Hargreaves made a convincing, smooth persuasive Don Alfonso and Anita Watson as Fiordiligi gave some impassioned singing in her internal struggle against the lure of a new lover. Special mention goes to Joanna Foote as Despina whose character acting was outstanding. It was altogether a very enjoyable evening. Look out for more opera at Fingest next year.

The Henley Standard
Mandy Beard