Since its inception, opera at Glyndebourne has been almost synonymous with Mozart. The Marriage of Figaro was the first work to be performed there in May 1934 but the revival of Così fan tutte was arguably yet more significant, initiating an enduring run of success after long years of neglect in which the piece was regarded as thin, lewd or trivial.
Nicholas Hytner’s 2006 show, revived now by Bruno Ravella for this year’s Glyndebourne Tour, never plays fast and loose with Da Ponte’s libretto. Rather it respects its proprieties and those of country-house opera while shining a light on the threat posed by sex and, in Despina’s case, class to the certainties encoded in that genteel period look. The costumes are elegant, nothing too flamboyant. The Bay of Naples is never seen – more radical reinterpretations have made its proximity the pretext for a beach party – however Vicki Mortimer’s unfussy, classically inspired set, with suggestive lighting by Paule Constable (as revived), has us constantly aware of it beyond the veranda. A plain, luminous Mediterranean cyclorama – it could be sea or sky – suggests the passage of time and/or the complexion of events. Detailed blocking and natural acting seem intended to make emotions real. Certainly the ending is tense, complex and equivocal, suggesting that recent infatuations will not be so easily shaken off.
The cast, nothing if not international, is predominantly youthful as one expects with GT: fine singers at the start of their careers. All four lovers are making Glyndebourne debuts. Bogdan Volkov (Ferrando) and Ilya Kutyukhin (Guglielmo) have Bolshoi connections and abundant potential. The tenor may not be a natural Mozartean but has no problem coping with long, arching musical phrases. The ladies of Ferrara, initially portrayed as young and emotionally naïve, are Kirsten MacKinnon as Fiordiligi with Rachel Kelly as Dorabella. It is only in the lovers’ recitatives, ably supported by the fortepiano of Matthew Fletcher and the cello of Jonathan Tunnell, that one detects some want of sparkle and engagement.The remaining principals, both coincidentally from Portugal, demonstrate what can be done with the text. The character of Despina cannot but be played for laughs and sculptor turned singer Ana Quintans brings playful lightness and energy to the role; her comic turn as the supposed notary is the broadest thing in the production. Don Alfonso is incarnated by José Fardilha who made his Royal Opera debut in the 2016-17 season singing Dr Bartolo in Rossini’s Barber. He has the largest, most developed voice and plenty of experience so it must be the directorial concept that keeps his characterisation rather subdued. His motivation remains inscrutable and he is a notably tactful presence in the ensembles, not least the sublime Act One ‘trio’.
Leo McFall, scheduled to make his CBSO debut in February, allows the Overture to slither around a bit, not every detail ideally firm or articulate, yet he secures very crisp ensemble and plenty of zip later. One or two instances of lack of co-ordination between stage and pit will doubtless be ironed out. The production is touring but if you can brave the third-world chaos of Southern Rail’s replacement bus services and make it to Sussex, the new theatre and grounds are looking simply glorious in the twilight. The gorgeous autumn planting is as dazzling as the Mediterranean sun conjured up indoors.
- Five further performances at Glyndebourne until October 26, then at theatres in Canterbury, Woking, Norwich, Milton Keynes and Plymouth until the end of November