diva opera review featured


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

diva opera review featured


There’s no fool like an old fool

One normally associates summer opera performances with light evenings and the sound of clinking glasses and distant laughter carrying over manicured lawns. Not on this particular occasion: a steady rain had been falling for several hours and the country lanes were already drenched as opera-lovers arrived at Fingest for Diva Opera’s production of Don Pasquale. The wet conditions however did not dampen either the spirit or the performance or the enjoyment of the audience. Fingest Great Barn, with its soaring beams and rafters provides an excellent backdrop for Diva Opera; the intimate setting, together with the wonderful acoustics making a perfect match for chamber opera performances. In such surroundings the audience can concentrate on details and nuances rarely observed in larger houses.

Donizetti’s comic opera based on Giovanni Ruffini’s compact libretto, fizzes throughout with graceful and effervescent melodies yet also manages to serve up more sophisticated moments of passionate romance. The story, which in a cliché might be summed up as “there’s no fool like an old fool”, centres on the pompous but deluded character of Don Pasquale who decides to marry a young wife in order to spite his nephew Ernesto, who refuses to marry the woman Don Pasquale has chosen for him. Pasquale is subsequently outwitted by his “friend”, the manipulative Malatesta who, in collusion with Ernesto and his true sweetheart Norina, manages to trick Pasquale into a false marriage. These four central characters carry the whole opera in a continuous and expanding succession of solos, duets trios and quartets.

The singing was impressive throughout and all the characters were thoroughly convincing in their roles. The Italian diction was especially clear – a result of the proximity of the performers to the audience. From his first entrance Noel Mann captured the elderly Pasquale, a stooped shambling figure in red carpet slippers. His rich bass baritone voice, at first expressing minor disgruntlement and becoming increasingly curmudgeonly, was powerful and polished. He also displayed a skilful dexterity in the faster passages, and this was especially evident in the famous act three “patter” duet with baritone David Stephenson (Malatesta) in which the timing was spot on and the overall effect quite thrilling. Ashley Catling was a suitably lovesick Ernesto, with his plaintive, legato phrases contrasting well with the brighter sound of Norina. Although her tone was somewhat strident on the highest notes, this seemed to be in keeping with her character. The coloratura passages were crystal clear and never wavered in vitality and impact. The musical director, Bryan Evans, was a star in his own right – his exceptional playing on the piano evoking the magic of a whole orchestra and encompassing its full dynamic range.

Altogether this was a highly enjoyable evening which seemed to race by. Fingest Opera aims to raise as much money as possible for its chosen charities through these performances. This year these are Child Bereavement UK and the SMA Trust, which funds research into spinal muscular atrophy.

The Henley Standard
Maureen Idowu