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Mozart – Cosi fan tutte at Glyndebourne & Salzburg

The power of uncertainty to fascinate the human mind should never be under-estimated. In 1941, German nuclear physicist Werner Heisenberg (famous for defining an “Uncertainty Principle”) travelled to occupied Denmark and visited Niels Bohr, the father figure of European scientists and his own former mentor, at his home. Neither the purpose for his visit nor any part of the discussion that took place between them was recorded, but Michael Frayn turned the episode into Copenhagen, an absorbing play which many people went to see time and time again, speculating afresh as each performance revealed a different twist and possible outcome.


It is just such a spell that Cosi fan tutte exerts. Almost every permutation of time and setting has been placed around the fixed points of Da Ponte's libretto and Mozart's music. They provide no ready-made motive for Don Alonso's elaborate hoax, and still less for Ferrando's and Gugliemo's acquiescence with it. They do not measure how deep the emotional entanglement of each character becomes, and they leave an open conclusion. The puzzle continues to draw directors and audiences back for repeated examination, as two productions from last year's summer festivals provide ready proof.


They are both very handsome looking affairs, and strangely something about the designs of both brought to mind the Skagen paintings of P S Kroyer, and perhaps set off a Scandinavian train of thought which led me to Frayn's play.


Glyndebourne – June/July 2006

Opus Arte OA 0970 D [2 DVDs – 210 minutes]

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
/ Ivan Fischer

Stage Director – Nicholas Hytner

Designer – Vicki Mortimer

TV Director – Francesca Kemp

Lighting Designer – Paule Constable


Ferrando – Topi Lehtipuu

Gugliemo – Luca Pisaroni

Don Alfonso – Nicolas Rivenq

Fiordiligi – Miah Persson

Dorabella – Anke Vondung

Despina – Ainhoa Garmendia


Glyndebourne's production is firmly set in the eighteenth century and the small chorus lines up cheerfully as well-behaved servants should. Vicki Mortimer's evocative sets are bathed in warm Neapolitan sunshine, and the atmosphere is pleasantly relaxed. The filming is beautifully done, framing the whole stage for much of the time, just zooming in for appropriate close ups.


Nicholas Rivenq's Don Alfonso manipulates gently, Ainhoa Garmendia's Despina enters into the conspiracy with a sense of fun, and the handsome young couples behave as only the carefree young can. All sing well, and Topi Lehtipuu is outstanding. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are in their element, with Ivan Fischer in careful control.


Director Nicholas Hytner seems content to present the story as a piece of harmless fun, a frolic for a summer evening without risk of challenging the minds of Glyndebourne's indulgent audience. Very enjoyable it is too, with order safely restored in the concluding moments.


Salzburg Festival – July/August 2006

Decca 074 3165 [2 DVDs – 182 minutes ]


Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Manfred Honeck

Stage Direction – Ursel and Karl-Ernst Herrmann

Design & Lighting – Karl-Ernst Herrman

Video Director – Thomas Grimm


Ferrando – Shawn Mathey

Gugliemo – Stephane Degout

Don Alfonso – Sir Thomas Allen

Fiordiligi – Ana Maria Martinez

Dorabella – Sophie Koch

Despina – Helen Donath


This Salzburg production matches the highest musical standards and is visually even more stunning than Glyndebourne's. Karl-Ernst Herrmann's costumes are as usual models of timeless elegance, perfectly displayed on an almost bare stage against a long horizon that changes colour subtly to reflect mood and time.


Audiences here have come to expect challenging productions and this is one of the best of the 2006 festival. Whilst the overture plays, a game of badminton is in progress and Don Alfonso (Sir Thomas Allen) is revealed as a fencing instructor, with a mind as incisive as his rapier.


The plot takes an unexpected twist early, with Dorabella eavesdropping on the men's discussion. She doesn't hear the detail, but the girls are aware, right from the start, that a wager is afoot. At first they are amused when men turn up in disguises that are believably deceptive, but gradually they all become enmeshed in the plot. You sense a weight of personal “baggage” in Helen Donath's embittered Despina, who teams up with the Machiavellian Alfonso and drives the conspiracy on relentlessly.


Right to the end it will keep you guessing as to which way the lovers will finally turn, will they resume their previous engagements, or follow some other course? The ending is nebulous - as with Copenhagen you feel that if you see it one more time you will reach the truth ….


Serena Fenwick