I often wonder what happened to Don Alfonso to make him so cynical. In a recent programme note, conductor Philippe Jordan expounds his theory that, in the three Mozart/Da Ponte operas, Cherubino (the randy page from Figaro) grows up to be libertine Don Giovanni who, in turn, becomes Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte. “All he has left is his sense of irony to ridicule those young people who have not yet experienced the throes of love.” In Nicholas Hytner's chocolate box production, lovingly revived by Bruno Ravella for Glyndebourne's tour, Alfonso is the most charismatic character on the stage.

Ilya Kutyukhin (Guglielmo), José Fardilha (Don Alfonso) and Bogdan Volkon (Ferrando) © Tristram Kenton
Ilya Kutyukhin (Guglielmo), José Fardilha (Don Alfonso) and Bogdan Volkon (Ferrando)
© Tristram Kenton

José Fardilha plays Alfonso as an avuncular friend, utterly without malice, his baritone on the dry side, but attractive. The wager he makes with Ferrando and Guglielmo, that he can prove their lovers – sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella – are just as potentially unfaithful as other women, is a throwaway bet, a light-hearted jest. You never get the sense that Alfonso has planned all this; he's merely proving a point. Left alone, however, and we finally get under his skin. I've rarely seen anyone make so much of Alfonso's recitative in Scene 7, Fardilha almost turning it into an arioso. What fools, he tells us, to wager so much money on a woman: “He who builds his hopes on a woman's heart ploughs the sea and sows on sand and hopes to snare the wild wind in a net.” This Don Alfonso has clearly once had his heart broken in two and he wants to prevent the same happening to his young friends.

Ilya Kutyukhin, Kirsten MacKinnon (Fiordiligi), Bogdan Volkov and Rachel Kelly (Dorabella) © Tristram Kenton
Ilya Kutyukhin, Kirsten MacKinnon (Fiordiligi), Bogdan Volkov and Rachel Kelly (Dorabella)
© Tristram Kenton

Mozart has always had a special place at Glyndebourne and this is a very special production. Vicki Mortimer's designs, gorgeously lit by Paule Constable, plunge us into the Mediterranean: azure skies, cream walls, lemon trees on the terrace. Hytner plays the opera straight. When the besotted sisters bid their lovers farewell, the trio with Don Alfonso is heartbreaking in its simplicity, the three characters gazing out into the auditorium. The “Albanians” are not ridiculously disguised, but handsome and dashing, with more than a hint of Captain Jack Sparrow about Ilya Kutyukhin's Tizio (odd we only ever learn their names when they sign the marriage contract at the end of Act 2). Once the plot unravels – when Ferrando and Guglielmo return from military duty, disrupting the “wedding” – Alfonso brushes his hands and the couples are joined together again, hurt but no doubt wiser. In some stagings, the coupling may switch; in others, all four lovers storm off in different directions, utterly broken. Here, it was never in any doubt that the status quo would be restored. 

Rachel Kelly (Dorabella) and Ilya Kutyukhin (Guglielmo)
Rachel Kelly (Dorabella) and Ilya Kutyukhin (Guglielmo)

The vocal performances of the young cast are mostly splendid. Rachel Kelly sang a delicious Dorabella, radiating honeyed warmth and clearly the first of the sisters to crack in the face of a handsome baritone. Kirsten MacKinnon was a towering, indignant Fiordiligi (it's noticeable how often Ravella has her seated to mask her height) with soaring upper notes, although a weaker chest register caused problems in “Per pietà”. A nice touch was the repeat of “Come scoglio”, sung not to the impudent Albanians, but as moral guidance to her sister. Both our soldiers are regular Bolshoi artists, Kutyukhin proving himself a more elegant Mozartian than Bogdan Volkov, though the latter sang a fine, unaffected “Un'aura amorosa”. Ana Quintans was a lively Despina, her doctor and notary possibly exaggerated too far in terms of silly voices. Leo McFall paced Mozart's gem of a score with zing, drawing characterful playing from the Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra. 

For Italian sunshine in an English autumn, this Così is a winner. If you can't catch it at Glyndebourne, catch it on tour.  

****1