Glyndebourne Opera's tasty trio

TONY COOPER The annual visit of Glyndebourne Opera to Norwich Theatre Royal comes round later this month. Tony Cooper takes a look at what’s on offer.


It's a good, interesting and varied trio of works coming our way: Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus, Mozart's Cosi fan tutte and Britten's The Turn of the Screw.

And Cosi - one of Mozart's most popular and endearing works written to a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte - is an apt choice for this year as every man and his dog seems to be celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of the “boy wonder' from Salzburg” and Glyndebourne is not being left out.

After all, it was his operas that were the backbone of the famous Glyndebourne Festival in East Sussex during the post-war years under the direction of Fritz Busch and Carl Ebert and the company has a proven track record in staging them. Cosi, as it happens, is one of its favourites. But its history has been chequered to say the least and it seems bizarre in today's liberal climate that the opera's theme (wife-swapping) nearly wiped it off the stage.

Such a plot seemed quite acceptable to Viennese audiences of the time, but throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries it was a different story. The subject matter was considered far too risqué and, as such, the opera was dropped from the repertoire. It was not until after the second world war that it regained its place in the standard operatic repertoire. Its popularity was recently boasted by its use in the movie Closer by Patrick Marber.

The theme of wife-swapping, however, dates back to the 13th century and notable versions of it can be found in Boccaccio's Decameron and Shakespeare's Cymbeline. The title of Cosi literally means “Thus do all women”, but is often translated as “Women are like that”. The phrase also appears in The Marriage of Figaro, making it a sort of Mozartian in-joke.

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This production, however, promises great things and is a revival by Samantha Potter of Nicholas Hytner's stunning production seen earlier this year at Glyndebourne where it received rave reviews. It will be sung in Italian with English supertitles and conducted by Gerard Korsteg, making his company debut.

Henry Waddington and Claire Ormshaw sing the roles of Don Alfonso and Despina. Both were seen on last year's tour as Don Magnifico and La Cenerentola.

Another first for Norwich (and in stark contrast to Cosi) is Britten's chilling two-act chamber opera, The Turn of the Screw, with a text by Myfanwy Piper based on Henry James' biting novella.

Kate Royal sings the role of the Governess. She was seen in Norwich last year as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro and appeared in this summer's picnic concert at Holkham Hall with José Carreras. Completing the cast is Daniel Norman (Peter Quint), Anne-Marie Owens (Mrs Grose) and Rachel Cobb (Miss Jessel).

Jonathan Kent directs (his first for the company) and Edward Gardner conducts (his last for the company). He's off to the London Coliseum to take over as music director of English National Opera.

The Screw was completed at breakneck speed. Piper's libretto was only completed at the beginning of 1954 and Britten started work on it by the end of March proving his technical mastery and talent of fast writing; it received its premiere in Venice in September of that year to coincide with the Venice Biennale, the commissioning body.

The reviews by the public and critics varied, but the majority regarded the work as the musically most refined musical-dramatic piece of its time. In the work, the synthesis of the rational and emotional aspect so characteristic for Britten was exposed in such a way that the dramatic effect was obtained with minimal means.

In James' novel the unhealthy atmosphere is generally more exposed, it's more terrifying than the opera. Britten, perhaps, was more interested in the issue of child protection while James was undoubtedly intrigued by the gothic aspect, the mysticism. The ending of the story is open for everyone's interpretation.

The repertoire is completed on a much lighter vein by Stephen Lawless' Klimtian production of Johann Strauss' zestful and well-loved operetta Die Fledermaus conducted by the 23-year-old British conductor, Robin Ticciati - GoT's incoming music director. A prodigiously-talented conductor, by all accounts, he takes up his appointment next year and should fit in well with the youth and vibrancy that characterises Glyndebourne's touring company.

Fledermaus was originally staged in the 2003 summer festival; this year marks its touring debut in a new English translation by Lawless and Daniel Dooner with additional material by Katy Brand. The cast includes John Graham-Hall as Eisenstein and Majella Cullagh as his melodramatic wife, Rosalinde.

The production highlights the opulence and sexual hypocrisy inherent in fin-de-siècle Vienna and Benoit Dugardyn's ingenious Art Deco set provides the perfect vehicle for the action, where issues that are hidden away by day are exposed at night. Through a series of disguises and false identities the evening degenerates into farce, only reaching resolution at dawn. It promises musical fizz all the way!

t Die Fledermaus: Tuesday November 21 and Friday November 24

t Cosi fan tutte: Wednesday November 22 and Saturday November 25

t The Turn of the Screw: Thursday November 23

t All performances start at 7.15pm. Tickets: £46, £40, £32, £23, £6. Box office: 01603 630000. Website: