By the time you are any age in life you can go ‘And what had Mozart achieved by this time?’ and realise that you’re running second best. Until you hit 36 and then you can crow, League of Gentleman style, that at least you’ve won the living contest. Two of Mozart’s later works – meaning he wrote them when was about 32 – were paired with a new piece by Philip O’Meara by the Hastings Philharmonic for their latest concert at St Mary in the Castle. It made for an excellent evening.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way. There weren’t many people here. The weather definitely would have kept a proportion relying on their car away in fear that the forecast snow was right but even allowing for that the grand building was disappointingly showing a lot of empty seats. And those seats weren’t cheap, not for a regular classical concert. Once the booking fee was added mine, the cheapest in the room, was just shy of £20. I get that there are expenses to cover and life isn’t fair but that seems just a little too steep to tempt the casual punter. A tenner in the gods and fifteen for the stalls would seem a better fit.
But I’ll stop grumbling now.
After an introduction from Polly Gifford about the genuinely amazing array of music that can be experienced in Hastings we got on down to K.364, Sinfonia Concertante. Ayşen Ulucan and Cristian Ladislau-Andris handled the violin and voila (respectively) leads well and the moves between reflective intensity and sprightly jig were delivered with panache by the players. Following the interval we had Philip O’Meara’s latest premiere, Flacubal 95, which is a response to Mozart’s 40th Symphony. So the odd situation where the reaction was before the question but no matter. This was an enjoyable piece. The influences were there and were clear but it also felt fresh and contemporary. I’d like to hear it again. Finally, that 40th Symphony, which, to be honest, we’ve all heard a lot. It wasn’t exactly given fresh life here, I think that would basically be impossible, but it was certainly enjoyably delivered and given as thorough workout as possible.
Next up for the Hastings Philharmonic is Elgar’s Cello Concerto on April 14th. That should sound cause hearts to break with the acoustic and visuals of St Mary in the Castle to support it.
Where other operas put obstacles in the way of true love which are then overcome leading to eternal happiness, or not overcome leading to emotional parting, Così fan tutte is nearly all artifice. Virtually every declaration of amour, no matter how tenderly delivered, is either part of a cynical game or a response to deliberate manipulation. The music is Mozartian colourful light; the plot as dark as they come. The response by Nicholas Hytner, the creator of this production back in 2006, is to play the machinations straight against a bright blue azure sky. The surface is beautiful, the unseen underbelly is twisted.
Così fan tutte premiered in 1790, some eight years after the publication of Les Liaisons Dangereuses with which it shares a cynical view of seduction, but didn’t get a performance at Covent Garden until 1968. Its presentation of women as being capable of equal cunning and enjoyment of affairs as men didn’t go down well in the nineteenth century and can easily be seen as misogynistic today. The title – all women are like this – hasn’t really helped. Glyndebourne has always liked it though. This run marks performance 510 and counting.
Everything hinges on the performances. Acting-wise all six were good, vocally the key four of Ferrando, Guglielmo, Fiordiligi and Dorabella were well matched. The singing of Rachel Kelly (Dorabella) and Kirsten MacKinnon (Fiordiligi) being worthy of note in particular. Ana Quintans had fun as the maid-of-all-deviousness Despina and Jose Fardilha kept the whole thing moving as Don Alfonso. The playing by the Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra was unobtrusive, suiting the straightforward way the production is presented. The cast did an excellent job of being ‘in the moment’ of the plot – it’s not their fault if there are times when the plot just makes you want to go, Oh, come on!
This was a Così fan tutte where the laughs were strictly in the words. No farce here. It works a lot better that way. But it’s still, for all that this production makes it less about the failures of women and more about the connivance and vanity of men, a hard opera to truly love. I’m glad I saw this production which I can’t see being bettered but I won’t be rushing to spend my limited funds on another.