Opera Scotland

Poster for first performance

Cosi fan tutte in Scotland

Posted 8 Sep 2015

The first performance in Scotland, on 13 February 1934, was by the Chanticleer Company, a London-based group of young musicians. They played at the Nelson Hall in Edinburgh, using an abridged text accompanied by two pianos, to an audience of 500.

Sadler's Wells Opera gave the work its first fully professional staging here on their Edinburgh visit in 1944. The cast included Joan Cross (Fiordiligi), Peter Pears (Ferrando) and Owen Brannigan (Alfonso), all soon to appear in the premiere of Peter Grimes. Rose Hill (Despina) sang regularly for Sadler's Wells and at Glyndebourne, before turning to acting, when she performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company among others. (She may also be remembered for regular appearances late in her career as Madame Fanny in the TV series 'Allo,'Allo.) This Cosi was welcomed by audiences and critics alike – The Scotsman referred to 'exquisite music and delightful comedy'.

A second Wells production in 1964 featured, in Pauline Tinsley, Patricia Kern and David Hillman, several singers who would become familiar to Scottish Opera audiences.

Così fan tutte has played an important role in the history of Scottish Opera, in large part because of their famous 1967 production by Anthony Besch, elegantly designed by John Stoddart. It was revived several times until 1982, always making a special impact and inviting audiences to treat the work not just as comedy but as a serious human drama. The curtain rose to simple stage pictures in black and white. As scene followed scene, colour began to seep in, until, as passion took over, the second act began in a riot of luxuriant jungle hues. As we were returned to 'sanity' at the end, the colour also disappeared.

That first cast, conducted by Alexander Gibson, had Elizabeth Harwood and Janet Baker as the sisters, Ryland Davies and Peter van der Bilt as the officers, with Inia Te Wiata and Jenifer Eddy as the conspirators. The two central belt cities enjoyed the benefit of two matinees for schools. Harwood and Baker paired up again for two revivals. Later cast members included Jill Gomez (Fiordiligi), Anna Reynolds (Dorabella), Patricia Hay (Despina), Alexander Young (Ferrando) and both John Shirley-Quirk and Thomas Hemsley as Alfonso. The last revival had Margaret Marshall and Ann Murray as the sisters, shortly before they sang the parts at Salzburg.

That production was a hard act to replace. Next for Scottish Opera, Director Richard Jones tackled the work in 1988, with interior décor reminiscent of Pompeii, and a volcano that gradually expanded until it filled the stage. The medium-scale tour was particularly successful, due to the presence of young singers of the calibre of Neill Archer, Jason Howard and Andrew Shore. The company's third full-scale production in 1990 included Tom Randle and Simon Keenlyside as the officers, with Jane Eaglen and Clare Shearer in majestic form as the sisters.

Stewart Laing's 1998 staging benefited from the singing of Claire Rutter, Michelle Walton and Lisa Milne, paired with Iain Paton, Peter Mattei and Donald Maxwell. The revival introduced Jeremy Ovenden and Brett Polegato as the officers. The most recent staging, directed by David McVicar in 2009, again presented a properly serious view of the characters, helped by a beautifully balanced team of singers.

Così fan tutte has been staged at five Edinburgh Festivals. The early visits by Glyndebourne brought it three times in a staging by Carl Ebert, with some truly great singers. Fiordiligi was sung by Suzanne Danco and Sena Jurinac, Despina by Hilde Güden, Ferrando by Juan Oncina and Richard Lewis, Guglielmo by Geraint Evans, and Alfonso by Mariano Stabile and Sesto Bruscantini. Conductors included Vittorio Gui and a young John Pritchard.

The Bavarian State Opera came from Munich in 1965, with the great American Claire Watson as Fiordiligi and the superb tenor Fritz Wunderlich as Ferrando. In 1980, John Pritchard returned, conducting his own Cologne company. The sisters were sung by Julia Varady and Ann Murray, with Rüdiger Wohlers as Ferrando, in a production directed and designed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. 

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