Cosi Fan Tutte, Glyndebourne


The Romantics of the early 19th century detested Cosi Fan Tutte, deeming it for the most part trivial and obscene. Mozart's emphasis on the irrational nature of desire and its attendant dangers, however, in many respects prefigures Romantic concerns - a fact not lost on Nicholas Hytner, whose new production re-imagines the opera as a parable of the threat posed by sex to classical certainties.

Rather than allowing Ferrando and Guglielmo (Topi Lehtipuu and Luca Pisaroni) the usual measure of comic absurdity when they don their disguises to begin their games of seduction, Hytner re-introduces them as a pair of glamorous Byronic brigands, whose sexuality is an unstoppable force. It's a touch of genius that allows us to understand not only why Ainhoa Garmendia's coldly rational Despina finds their poses so absurd, but also why Fiordiligi and Dorabella (Miah Persson and Anke Vondung) are so swiftly swept off their feet.

What follows is often deeply erotic, as the two pairs of lovers find their emotional security undermined by desire. The scenes between Pisaroni and Vondung are particularly incendiary. The encounters between Persson and Lehtipuu are rightly more disquieting and awkward, though Persson slips up a bit by permitting herself an overt interest in Lehtipuu sooner than Mozart's music allows. Vocally, all four are glorious: Pisaroni, especially, is unquestionably the finest Guglielmo to be heard in this country for some time.

Yet Hytner's approach also has its drawbacks. Whatever its links with Romanticism, Cosi Fan Tutte is ultimately an 18th-century comedy of sexual manipulation that echoes the works of Laclos and de Sade: Hytner, rather awkwardly, tends to lose sight of the controlling importance of Alfonso and Despina. Unfortunately, neither performance is particularly strong. Garmendia sings cleanly and evinces a proletarian hard-headedness, though she lacks spirit and charm. More troublingly, Nicolas Rivenq plays Alfonso as a rather scatty academic type. Vocally, he's underpowered. Dramatically, you get little sense of either the man's cynical cruelty or the ruthless charm that holds the other characters in thrall.

The conductor, meanwhile, is Ivan Fischer. His approach mirrors Hytner's in his emphasis on the sexual uncertainties that lurk beneath the classical perfection of the surface. He uncovers much you haven't noticed before: the insidious woodwind writing that veers between comfort and unease, the rhythmic figurations that are a constant reminder of emotional dislocation. His is one of several remarkable achievements in an evening that nevertheless doesn't quite cohere. In the final analysis, this is a very fine Cosi Fan Tutte, though not a great one.

· In rep until July 10. Box office: 01273 813813


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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