Pete Waterman, at the height of The Hit Factory's success with the likes of Kylie Minogue, said that writing a pop song was the hardest job in the world. Boy meets Girl, Boy loses Girl, Boy gets Girl back - all in three minutes. Mozart was there first (in Cosi fan tutte at the Hackney Empire, as part of its English Touring Opera residency and on tour) but he takes a bit longer than three minutes and has a lot more fun.
Don Alfonso strikes a bet with young rakes Ferrando and Guglielmo that their lovers (sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella) are "like all women" - fickle in their affections. Hatching a scam to test them and aided by the lads' preposterous disguises and housemaid Despina's louche cynicism, the older man wins his bet - well, sort of - and the sisters and lovers come to know each other, and themselves, rather better than they did.
The music soars, there's plenty of laughs and everyone - in period costume - looks fantastic, so if it takes rather longer for everyone to live happily ever after than one might expect were Cosi written in 1990 and not 1790, well, there's always the glorious tunes to hear from a full orchestra in the pit.
As the sisters, Laura Mitchell and Kitty Whately sing wonderfully well together and pierce the very air when solo - and I couldn't help but think of Agnetha and Frida from Abba when they harmonised. Anthony Gregory and Toby Girling have a lot of fun as the young men, twisting and turning on the end of Richard Mosley-Evans' piece of string as he manoeuvres to win his bet. Good though they are, Paula Sides rather steals the show as Despina, arching the eyebrow one minute, scheming with Alfonso the next. It's a great part and she delivers it beautifully.
As you can see from my references above, I'm no opera veteran and the packed audience was clearly a mix of newbies and old hands. Sung in English and with a superb programme in support, this traditional production was perfectly accessible, if not quite as immediate as OperaUpClose's work that I have seen at the King's Head. For those looking for something between the grand productions (and grand prices) of opera's iconic venues and the intimacy of the back of a pub gigs, ETO's tour may be just the thing. Having entertained and enlightened nearly 50,000 punters over 188 performances last year, they certainly know what they're doing.
Photo Richard HuBert Smith