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Reviews

<em>Così fan tutte</em>, Glyndebourne Touring Opera at the Marlowe Theatre
02 Nov 2017

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Così fan tutte, Glyndebourne Touring Opera at the Marlowe Theatre

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Ilya Kutyukhin (Guglielmo), José Fardilha (Don Alfonso), Bogdan Volkov (Ferrando)

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

 

Hytner’s elegant production is a smooth slow-burner: everything unfolds with subtlety and slickness - from the graceful sliding panel which transforms an urbane interior to a sun-drenched exterior in the blink of an eye, to Don Alfonso’s sly manoeuvrings, to the metamorphosis of two suave Neapolitan aristocrats into dashing Albanian romancers. For once, gentle charm outweighs mordant cynicism. Even the actors who serve as flunkies and maids, deftly shifting and re-arranging props, are debonair. Indeed, the comedy takes a while to get into its stride: this Don Alfonso seems almost too disinterested in the young chaps’ seriously ardent avowals of their beloveds’ constancy, and the girls themselves are almost bookishly demure initially. But, it’s not long before the eye-brows are being cocked and wry smiles are twitching, as the increasing contrast between the cool observers and the over-heated participants creates a persuasive dramatic tension and momentum.

Vicki Mortimer’s sets are simple but refined. The bar in which Don Alfonso lays down the gauntlet to the over-confident Ferrando and Guglielmo, needs just a few wall-mounted daily newspapers and a breakfast table to establish a mood of leisured urbanity. The back wall recedes to reveal a terrace bedecked with lemon trees and scented bouquets, and Dorabella and Fiordiligi reclining on sun loungers, engrossed in novels, the unmarred blue backdrop beautifully suggestive of limitless sea and sky beyond. The arrival of the imploring, insistent ‘Albanians’ brings about a coloristic transformation, a red, arching wedding canopy and splashes of orange and gold evoking the headiness of the exotic which has won the women’s hearts and which is enhanced by Paule Constable’s poetic lighting (revived by Keith Benson).

The period costumes incorporate imaginative details: the lining and cuffs of the gents’ frock coats offer a splash of red excitement, and Dorabella’s crimson kitten heels peep out from beneath her elegant gown, a reminder of her impetuousness which contrasts with Fiordiligi’s cooler ice-blue gown and temperament. Just a neat moustache and goatee transform the men into Albanian adventurers, a little stylish embroidery and stripy waist scarfs being sufficient to suggest the ‘Other’; as we suspend our disbelief, the transformation is all the more convincing for the lack of extravagance and hyperbole. One can thus forgive a little hamming during the ‘mock-suicide’ antics.

Cosi Quartet Kenton.jpg Ilya Kutyukhin (Guglielmo), Kirsten Mackinnon (Fiordiligi), Bogdan Volkov (Ferrando), Rachel Kelly (Dorabella). Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Hytner seems almost deliberately to eschew the potential opportunities for high jinks and excess, and moderation makes the subtle ‘gags’ all the more telling - as when Guglielmo, supposedly dying of arsenic poisoning, snatches a slug of wine from the al fresco table when he thinks no one is watching (of course, Alfonso is!); or when Dorabella exhibits an indecorous interest in Guglielmo’s bare chest, exposed by the disguised Despina as she administers the Doctor’s Mesmer magnet.

Guglielmo and Dorabella Tristram Kent.jpg Ilya Kutyukhin (Guglielmo), Rachel Kelly (Dorabella). Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

The young cast fit neatly into their roles. As Dorabella, Irish mezzo Rachel Kelly glowed with a warmth expressive of the younger sister’s impulsive, passionate nature. The full, rich tone of her Act 2 confession of indiscretion, ‘È amore un ladroncello’ (Love is a little thief), was winningly honest. Canadian soprano Kirsten MacKinnon’s Fiordiligi was well characterised; we witnessed and believed in a credible, heartfelt crisis of loyalty and love. MacKinnon scaled the heights of ‘Come scoglio’ cleanly - although here and in ‘Per pietà’ her chest voice was not consistently steady or firm - and was a fearsome rebutter of Ferrando’s advances. In the repeat of the first section, she focused her indignation on her younger sister, instructing her in the need for steadfastness; the prominence given to her pendant made its subsequent loss all the more affecting.

Ukrainian tenor Bogdan Volkov, who won second prize at Plácido Domingo’s Operalia competition in 2016, was a sensitive Ferrando. His tone was tender and the phrases beautifully shaped in ‘Un’aura amorosa’, and this aria was an unanticipated moment of stillness, evoking sincerity of sentiment, within the unfolding machinations. Volkov demonstrated plenty of power, though, when provoked by Dorabella’s infidelity, though Russian baritone Ilya Kutyukhin just nodded ahead in the charisma stakes, as a flamboyant, high-spirited Guglielmo.

Don Alfonso Cosi Kento.jpg Ilya Kutyukhin (Guglielmo), Bogdan Volkov (Ferrando), José Fardilha (Don Alfonso). Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Watching over all with a cool impassiveness was José Fardilha’s nonplussed Don Alfonso: he seemed unconcerned about the outcome of his wager; he’s seen it all before. Though the Portuguese singer’s baritone was a little husky at times, the recitative was absolutely fluent and as an imperceptible but prevailing influence Fardilha swept the action forward with an irresistible effortlessness.

I felt that Portuguese soprano Ana Quintans was a tad too hyper-active as Despina, though her bright, clean soprano shone freshly. She needed a little more direction in her two arias, for she had a tendency to lapse into a ‘nudge-wink’ mode supplemented by lots of hand-flapping and funny voices: the effect was out-of-kilter with the prevailing low-key eloquence.

The Marlowe Theatre can present acoustic challenges for musicians and singers, and I’m not sure that on this first night of GTO’s brief residency conductor Leo McFall had quite got its measure. The overture felt rather tentative, the opening Andante somewhat laboured, the ‘motto’ figure heavily signposted. I haven’t sat in the Circle before, so can’t judge whether the prominence of the woodwind and horns was an acoustical quirk, but while the playing was notable for its refinement - and Mozart’s woodwind contribute greatly to characterisation and dramatic orientation - they frequently seemed too loud. Bassoon, flute and clarinet penetrated forcefully in ‘Come scoglio’ and in ‘Donne mie, la fate a tanti’ (My ladies, you do it to so many) the two horns were strong and true but rather overpowered the gloating Guglielmo. Often there seemed an imbalance between strings and wind. McFall also didn’t have a completely sure grip on the larger ensembles and choruses, when stage and pit occasionally went adrift; the conductor seemed to set quite rigid ensembles and didn’t so much as adapt to his singers but dragged them back into the fold.

However, this was a very satisfying evening. At the end of Don Alfonso’s ‘demonstration’, the pupils in this ‘school for lovers’ had clearly learned their lesson. For once, the re-coupling at the close did not unsettle or give cause for doubt. The resolution was as serene as the azure sky, in which not a single grey cloud hovered to cast a shadow of uncertainty. Hytner’s production might lack a little piquancy at times, but sometimes equipoise and peace are welcome.

Claire Seymour

Mozart: Così fan tutte

Ferrando - Bogdan Volkov, Guglielmo - Ilya Kutyukhin, Don Alfonso - José Fardilha, Fiordiligi - Kirsten MacKinnon, Dorabella - Rachel Kelly, Despina - Ana Quintans, Actors (Jofre Caraben van der Meer, Philip Dew, Vigee Harding, Adrien Mastrosimone, Mark Ruddick); director - Nicholas Hytner, conductor - Leo McFall, revival director - Bruno Ravella, designer - Vicki Mortimer, lighting designer - Paule Constable, revival lighting designer - Keith Benson, Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra, Glyndebourne Chorus (chorus master - Nicholas Jenkins).

Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury; Tuesday 31st October 2017.

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