The Glyndebourne Festival Opera is an annual opera festival held in the English country house of Glyndebourne, and attracts thousands of opera lovers from all over the world. It is not at all subsidized by the government, and caused a rumpus in 2003 by placing ads for its shows for the first time ever. But the shows of this year’s festival seem fairly diverse, and will go into late August.
But this week, I decided to dip into a past Glyndebourne production. Così Fan Tutti was one of the inaugural operas for the opera house, and I was excited to see the 2006 revival. I was lucky to stumble upon an online version of the screening, despite the fact that the festival had not yet instituted the streaming options it now has for certain shows. I meant no harm through watching in this way, and was only acting out of a desire for a timely review. The intention was not to purposefully deny money to the Glyndebourne Festival Opera. Goodness knows all opera houses can use some help nowadays.
Now, on to Tutti. This is definitely a fluffy Romantic opera, so the challenge is to put these shows on with a fresh eye. You definitely don’t have to make an updated version of the story, and there are definitely examples of productions that do well because they go full-out traditional in production. This aims for a rustic italian setting, and it works quite well in pointing out the difference in class between servants and nobles.
It also doesn’t hurt that the camera loves these singers. There are hardly any shots of the entire stage, but it hardly matters. The close-up shots of the lovers embracing each other before being parted by war, tenderly singing “Be true to me!” could easily be the production’s title images. Ditto with a pre-wedding scene in Act 2, where amidst all lovely drunken passion the camera finds one of the male leads muttering bitterly, “I wish they’d [the women] drunk poison.” Even the transitions between scenes (very good in their own right) are filmed tastefully. The whole experience is immersive, but not showy.
The two leading women, Miah Persson and Anke Vondung, shine on their duets together. They taunt servants and tenderly hug each other with equal ferocity. Their relationship is a delight to watch throughout. But their onstage lovers, Topi Lehtipuu and Luca Pisaroni, are the real stars of the show. The scene of their initial wager with Don Alonso (played by the stately and well-cast Nicolas Rivenq) over their lovers’ fidelity sets the tone as one of close friendship. And there is never a doubt in our heads that this is so. Each of their romantic relationships is very different, adding weight to the various romantic hijinks that take place. But there are many lighthearted moments, especially when Lehtipuu and Pisaroni are forced to go into disguise. They immerse themselves into their cheesy Jack Sparrow personas completely, to everyone’s delight. You find yourself laughing with them when they start singing about the quality of their moustaches.
Unfortunately, this opera suffers greatly from what I lovingly refer to as the Billy Connolly Problem. It was greatly referred to in Billy Connolly’s Live in New York special, which the link leads to. Here’s a summary: An opera can sometimes experience drag because the libretto itself contains a lot of repetition. But the libretto isn’t the problem in this case; it’s the company itself, not knowing what to do with themselves during the points of repetition. It’s not knowing the precise moment to move about the stage, or throw their hands up, or even to grimace between individual phrases. It makes for a highly monotonous experience for the audience. The scene after a very dramatic (and fake poisoning) at the end of Act 1 suffers this fate. It’s unfortunate, because it directly follows a very action-filled scene that proves the depths of Lehtipuu and Pisaroni. So it goes.
This blog is definitely gaining a reputation for nitpicking divas, and I will not spare this opera in doing so. Miah Persson is excellent as the (mostly) faithful Fiordiligi, but her aria is the Billy Connolly Problem incarnate. She plants herself on stage and never only seems to alter her facial expression twice throughout the entire number. In earlier and later scenes, Persson lends a gravity to her character that few could ever conjure. But in her aria, she settles into being a diva.
When the singers are allowed to freely interpret a scene, it goes very well. Lehtipuu and Vondung are particularly good at coming up with “filler” movements and character decisions, which make the characters all the more entertaining to watch. Anhoa Garmendia, as the scheming and freethinking servant Despina, is an absolute joy to watch for her character interpretation. She pops in and out of costume, and her most memorable moments are when she is in disguise. That can actually be said for the entire cast; when in disguise, or given moments of repose, they are lovely to observe. We can sympathize and bond with them then. But when everyone remembers that they are performing a Very Important Classic Opera, the scene becomes stiff and boring. Only the stolen moments are gold.
About the Author: Brit McGinnis writes regularly for nerdy blogs, awesome magazines, and random video game sites that feature Sasquatch. In her free time, she edits and writes even more things. You can see some samples of her work on her website. She also loves running, watching horror movies, and playing video games.