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1996, Glyndebourne, Cosi fan tutte

Cosi fan Tutte

1996_Cosi_Glyndebourne_SK_and_JMA

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Librettist: Lorenzo da Ponte
Venue and Dates: Glyndebourne
20, 23, 25, 30 May
2, 8, 11, 16, 19, 22, 29 June
4, 6, 9 July, 1996
Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst
David Parry (from June 19)
Director: Michael McCarthy (revival of 1991 production)
Original Director: Trevor Nunn
Designer: Maria Bjornson
Lighting Designer: Pat Collins
Performers:
Fiordiligi: Solveig Kringelborn
Dorabella: Susan Graham (20, 23, 25 May and 22 June) / Imelda Drumm (30 May, 2, 8,
11, 16, 19, 29 June, 4, 6, 9 July,)
Guglielmo: Simon Keenlyside
Ferrando: John Mark Ainsley (20, 23 May. Originally scheduled throughout, but
withdrew after two performances) / Andrew Mackenzie-Wicks (all except first two performances)
Despina : Lillian Watson
Don Alfonso : Jake Gardner
The London Philharmonic
Fortepiano continuo: Joyce Fieldsend

1996CosiGlyndebourne_SusanGraham

1996_Cosi_Glyndebourne_LW

Soundbites

Alan Blyth, Opera Festival issue 1996

Così fan tutte: Glyndebourne, June 2

After the indignities imposed on poor Theodora the night before, this evening came as blessed relief. Though Trevor Nunn sometimes doesn’t trust the music and irritates us with unwanted, excessive extras and action on his cruise-liner, circa 1910 staging, much of his concept lends feeling, wit and point to Mozart’s ever-fascinating work. Above all, he underlines the emotional development of both girls and boys as Da Ponte’s cruelly designed dance of seduction is fully exploited. Here, in particular, you feel for the youths forced, at a saturnine puppet-master’s will, to woo their fellow-officers’ girls and do it in earnest. Indeed, the up side of the Nunn approach is to show such situations being played out against the superficialities of a pleasure-loving “audience” on board (and in the audience?).

Such thoughts welled up during Act 2, because at least four of the principals were so very well cast. Most telling of all was Simon Keenlyside’s Guglielmo, a wonderfully detailed portrayal. This Guglielmo develops from supercilious, jokey lightheartedness throught manly cynicism, in a perfectly projected “Donne mie”, to the incredulous, forlorn lover of “Fra gli amplessi” as he watches, from a deck above, his Fiordiligi succumbing to Ferrando. Keenlyside’s portrayal is enhanced by his mobile features and his warm, nut-brown baritone (similar to that of Domgraf-Fassbaender, Glyndebourne’s first Guglielmo).

As Ferrando, Andew McKenzie-Wicks replaced John Mark Ainsley, who withdrew from the cast after the first night. While one admired his courage (he was at least released from “Ah, lo veggio”, which was sung by Ainsley), one could not expect him to have dug as deep into Ferrando’s misery as Keenlyside had into Guglielmo’s – “Tradito, schernito” in any case strained his resources – but his neat tenor and adequate technique saw him through and he played his part securely in the ensemble.

Another, unexpected change was the Dorabella. An unavoidably absent Susan Graham was replaced by the young Irish mezzo Imelda Drumm, who proved a delight. Her mezzo speaks easily from top to bottom and was here employed with ease and agility in both Dorabella’s arias. Add to that a delectable and confident stage presence and you have quite a discovery. Here she revelled in the byplay with Solveig Kringelborn’s ebullient Fiordiligi. The more flighty of the sisters in the first scene, this Fiordiligi bucked tradition, so that her move to understanding her true emotions was that much more startling. More buxom than when she sang the part in Salzburg three years ago, she has also put on vocal weight – to advantage. Hers is a Fiordiligi in the Vaness class, one capable of carrying off both arias with aplomb and suggesting a Donna Anna in waiting. My crucial test for any Fiordiligi is how she takes the repeat of “Caro bene, al tuo candor” in “Per pietà”: Kringelborn sang it with such a sense of vulnerability as to melt the hardest anti-feminist heart in the audience.

Lillian Watson has sung one or two Despinas in her time, but none as closely observed as this one, every facial expression, every note of recitative filled with meaning, yet never to excess. This was the maid-on-the-make to the life, delighting in her part in the intrigue, distraught when it suddenly unravels – yet willing to take her share of the available loot from Jake Gardner’s subtly achieved Alfonso, one whose bonhomous exterior fails to hide a soul of steel as the game is played out to its bitter end. A moment or so of strain apart, Gardner sang with velvet smoothness and many shades of colour to second his cynically observed portrayal.

Franz Welser-Möst remains many colleagues’ least-favourite conductor. All I can say is that by this, the fifth performance of the run, the interpretation seemed more than tenable. Speeds were well-adjusted in themselves and to each other, the playing had delicacy and warmth tempered by a touch of resolution. This wasn’t a particularly loving interpretation but one that had decided vigour and a deal of grace to it. Only the timing of the recitatives was ill-judged: the attempt to take them at a conversational pace failed, often leaving one longing for things to move more quickly.

As I have implied, Michael McCarthy had closely restudied Nunn’s original staging to suit a new, willing cast. As a whole, this came high in my experience of the work in the house.

1996_Cosi_Glyndebourne_JMA_and_SG

John Allison, Opera Festival issue 1996

Così fan tutte: Glyndebourne, June 22

For a show that had been undermined by Trevor Nunn’s superficial staging and the unscheduled departure of its principal tenor, this Così revival was doing rather well towards the end of the run. David Parry took over on the podium for the last six performances, and though some of his speeds may have surprised the cast (ensemble was not always water-tight) the music had a rhythmic vitality that never slackened. From the start of the overture – staged as a noisy embarkation scene, as if Nunn felt it was not worth listening for – Parry found both the scintillating high spirits and the disturbing ambiguities in the score, making up in part for the relentless frivolity elsewhere.

Glyndebourne was caught slightly off-guard when the Ferrando (John Mark Ainsley) withdrew early on; his cover, Andrew MacKenzie-Wicks, stepped out of the chorus and bravely sang at all the remaining performances. Another cover, the mezzo Imelda Drumm, had sung at some performances while Susan Graham was absent, but here Graham’s bubbly Dorabella was back on form, gleaming of tone in “È amore un ladroncello”. With the other four principals giving their best – including Solveig Kringelborn in strong, ravishing voice as Fiordiligi and Simon Keenlyside singing vibrantly as Guglielmo – this was an evening of vocal accomplishment.

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