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Meet the Così fan tutte girls

Let’s hear it for the girls! Mozart’s Così fan tutte follows the fate of two sisters whose fidelity is put to the test by their fiancés who accept an ill-advised wager from the cynical Don Alfonso. Mischief and mayhem follow, but who will win this game of love?

While the opera singers playing the sisters, Alexandra Lowe (Fiordiligi) and Heather Lowe (Dorabella), share the same surname, they’re not actually related in real life, so we were interested to know how they’re finding being siblings in the opera and what they make of Mozart’s wry look at romance.

Tell us about yourself and your history with Opera North

Alexandra: “I was born in Mallorca before moving to Wigan at the age of 16. I’ve visited Opera North twice before: once as a student at RNCM and subsequently with the National Opera Studio.”

Heather: “I also studied at the RNCM and the NOS, before making my first major house debut with Opera North in 2015. At the time, I was covering the role of Rosina in The Barber of Seville and actually got the call to go on stage! Since then, I’ve appeared as Lel in The Snowmaiden, Sesto in Giulio Cesare, Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro and, most recently, Fox in last year’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen.”

When did you first come across Così fan tutte?

Alexandra: This opera has really been the kickstarter role in my career. I first came across Fiordiligi at the RNCM during my Masters Degree; I then went to the Guildhall Opera School where I also played the role. I went on to perform it at Neville Holt Opera, and then I was the cover at the Royal Opera House during my time there on the Jette Parker Programme.

Heather: I first knew of Così when I was still a student in Manchester. A wonderful mentor, Jane Anthony, ran an opera company called Young Opera Venture which I was lucky enough to be a part of, and we did scenes on tour in and around Leeds. I loved the comedic sentiment of the piece and how much fun we all had playing with the characters.

What do you like most about this piece?

Heather: “For me, it’s the music! Mozart’s at his best in the Act 1 finale and, of course, the arias are some of the most iconic and beautiful he wrote. I’m so excited to hear the Orchestra of Opera North led by our wonderful conductor, Clemens Schuldt, play this score.”

Alexandra agrees, picking out the duet between Ferrando and Fiordiligi in Act 2 as her favourite: “The music in this is just so emotive. It’s a dream to finally give into Ferrando towards the end of the opera. Mozart makes this feel so natural; it’s as if we were truly in it and we’ve been given this wonderful music to bring the audience along with us. It makes my job very easy!”

Henry Neill as Guglielmo, Heather Lowe as Dorabella, Alexandra Lowe as Fiordiligi and Anthony Gregory as Ferrando © James Glossop

Tell us about your costumes

For this production, director Tim Albery has set the action in the 18th Century Age of Enlightenment. Cue amazing dresses. As Heather says: “There are LAYERS of it! To start with, there’s the corseted top, followed by the underskirt, then the bustle/mini pannier, then the overskirts which are the most beautiful colour grey – all topped off with an amazing scarf. Throughout the show, we change colours to match the boys. My character, Dorabella, chooses red which I love as it’s a stunning contrast to the grey of the top and the darkness of the set.”

Part of the rehearsal process has been spent by the singers getting to grips with moving around the stage in these big dresses. Alexandra explains: “We’ve been rehearsing mostly in costume. We have to run, kneel, lie down (and get up mid singing!), walk backwards, etc., in about three layers of skirts and a corseted bodice, so everything needs to be rehearsed. But, honestly, I feel amazing in the dress and they’ve even made me shoes specifically for my feet! How lucky are we?”

Heather Lowe as Dorabella, Alexandra Lowe as Fiordiligi and Gillene Butterfield as Despina © James Glossop

What’s it like having an on-stage sister?

Alexandra: “The Dorabella – Fiordiligi bond is always a very special one. With Heather, it was very much an instant connection as she’s such a lovely girl but also extremely generous as a performer. I love our dynamic on stage, I feel like all I need to do is glance over at her to know what she’s thinking! With the same surname, we keep wondering if we’re actually distant relations – how funny would that be?”

Heather: “Alex is brilliant and so much fun to play alongside on stage and in the rehearsal room. I like how Mozart has clearly defined the characters of both sisters and how fiercely loyal they are, even though they may disagree at times. How they irritate or wind each other up and then egg each other on depending on the circumstances. In a way, they reflect the other’s feelings and they always come together as a team.”

Why should people book their ticket now?

Heather believes Così fan tutte is just the ticket to brighten up dreary February days: “It’s a great mix of brilliant music, lighthearted fun, iconic arias, and heartfelt moments. It offers something for everyone and hopefully you’ll leave with a spring in your step.”

For Alexandra, it’s also the perfect place to start your operatic journey: “There’s a reason this production has been done before and it’s making a return: it’s because it’s just so well done! With a masterpiece like this, you need creatives that really know what they’re doing. Tim Albery is a genius director and, together with Clemens Schuldt, they’re creating a really special version of it. It’s also a big plus that it’s in English. I think the story can be told so well when it’s in people’s own language – so especially if it’s your first time at an opera, this would be a good place to start!”

Cosi fan tutte opens at Leeds Grand Theatre on Friday 2 February 2024. Following its run in Leeds, it tours to Nottingham, Newcastle, Salford and Hull.

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