The Drottningholm Court Theatre is an architectural gem: a fully preserved Baroque theatre – a "Swedish Versailles" – complete with stage machinery and original seating. It may not be the most comfortable theatre experience, but it is authentic, and very charming.

Serena Malfi (Dorabella) and Ana Maria Labin (Fiordiligi)
© Mats Bäcker

Così fan tutte concludes the Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy at Drottningholm, which started in 2015 with Le nozze di Figaro, followed by Don Giovanni last year. The three operas have shared the same director, Ivan Alexandre, and the same staging and set design, by Antoine Fontaine: a "theatre within the theatre" concept, not the most original of ideas, but one that serves Così fan tutte particularly well. The area in front of the stage serves as some sort of dressing room, where the two male protagonists, and Despina, change costumes as needed, while the action takes place in the stage within the stage, with Don Alfonso often sitting as a spectator to this "play". This gives the audience a strong feeling of Don Alfonso as the driver of the action, and also an understanding of how the four protagonists, as much as they feel they have agency, are actually driven by unrestrainable forces, from without and within.

The singers wore traditional 18th-century costumes, which is unavoidable in Drottningholm's setting. The production was rather traditional itself, with a couple of detours from the plot: Fiordiligi faints at the beginning, when Don Alfonso tells the sisters that something terrible happened to their lovers, and everybody on stage pretends that the singer Anna Maria Labin has actually fainted. Serena Malfi (Dorabella) speaks in Italian calling people from the back stage with smelling salts, after which Labin jumps up and starts singing again. The happy ending is also changed, as often happens in staged productions now, to a tragic one: the sisters are desperately crying and the two friends go at each other's throats in a brawl.

Jean-Sébastien Bou (Don Alfonso)
© Mats Bäcker

Marc Minkowski conducted the period instrument Drottningholm Theatre Orchestra with energy, choosing brisk tempi which, at times, felt on the rushed side. The fast pace did make for a fun, lively performance, and Minkowski managed to drive the ensembles with authority and the right level of divertissement. The natural horns, played by Ulrich and Karen Hübner, deserve a mention for the remarkable level of intonation and control, especially noticeable during the great Fiordiligi's aria “Per pietà” in Act 2.

Ana Maria Labin was a charming Fiordiligi, her high register silvery and shiny, supported by a warm middle register. Unfortunately for her, Fiordiligi's tessitura often wanders among the low, even very low notes, and Labin lacks a sufficiently supported low register, her voice tending to be covered by the orchestra. Dorabella was Italian mezzo Serena Malfi, who turned out to be the most consistent and convincing singer of the evening. Her voice is warm and round, with remarkable uniformity in all areas, beautiful commanding high notes and a sexy, burnished low register.

Tenor Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani, as Ferrando, displayed a high, light voice, sometimes a bit too white for my taste. His technique and command of the style were admirable, and his “Un'aura amorosa” rightly stopped the show. He was a convincing lover, maybe less "menacing" than in the description given by Dorabella in her first entrance. Unfortunately, his aria “Ah, lo vedo” was cut.

Ana Maria Labin (Fiordiligi)
© Mats Bäcker

Guglielmo was Robert Gleadow, a Canadian bass-baritone with a very powerful instrument. His best moments were in the ensembles, where he found style and elegance, managing to blend his voice with that of his colleagues. In his solo parts he had a tendency to over-sing, coming close to roaring and shouting. I am not sure how much of this is due to his choice, and how much to the requests of the director, who had him roam the stage in a physically impressive way (he is tall, well built and handsome) with the result of upstaging other singers and seemingly bullying everybody around. It is a pity, because his voice has true beauty.

Don Alfonso was sung by Jean-Sébastien Bou, whose smooth baritone may be a bit light for the role, but he managed to convince as the cynical, worldly philosopher. Giulia Semenzato was an appropriately spirited Despina; her high register was pleasing and her acting funny and lively. The chorus was all but eliminated by the performance; a very competent quartet sang the choral parts from one of the stage boxes, dressed in black, and reading from the score.

The audience saluted the performance with overwhelming cheers (well, overwhelming for a Scandinavian setting anyway), sealing another great success at the Drottningholm's Slottsteater.