La Traviata ★★★☆☆
Così Fan Tutte ★★★☆☆
Investec Opera Holland Park, London
Investec Opera Holland Park has a fabulous reputation for unearthing forgotten masterpieces (there’s a mouth-watering rarity coming up later in the season), but has set out its stall this year with two reliable favourites that are in repertoire until June 23: Verdi’s La Traviata and Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte.
Both productions have their positives. Director Rodula Gaitanou sets La Traviata in a sumptuous world of Art Nouveau glamour (designed by Cordelia Chisholm) and keeps the storytelling admirably clear. On the downside, sometimes the characterisation is a bit too cardboardy — the complex character of Germont, the conservative paterfamilias, is reduced to a tiresome boo-hiss villain — and Matthew Kofi Waldren’s conducting tends to the scrappy.
But there’s compensation to be had in the gorgeous singing and touching stage presence of the tenor Matteo Desole as the naïve young lover Alfredo. And the many and varied glories of Lauren Fagan’s voice make her a really promising Violetta too, even if her acting is still a touch telegraphic.
Così Fan Tutte — a disturbing comedy about two men betting on the fidelity of their girlfriends, and then testing them over and over again — is always a tough nut to crack. I’ve seen it set in a laboratory, on a film set, in a Punch and Judy show — just about everywhere, in fact.
Director Oliver Platt plays it straight by putting it in eighteenth-century period costumes and pretty rococo sets. It’s easy on the eye and mercifully unpreachy, but the comic elements need a bit more help than Platt gives them, leaving it feeling a touch flat. And though the cast is lively and each performer has excellent things to offer, there’s also a deal of inconsistency in the singing.
But when conductor Dane Lam reins in his occasional tendency to rush, he draws some crisp, light and beautiful playing from the City of London Sinfonia, which provides one of the joys of the evening.