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Meet the Così fan tutte Meddlers

We’ve met the girls, we’ve met the boys, so we thought it was about time we met the Così fan tutte meddlers: the philosopher Don Alfonso and his fellow schemer Despina, the ladies’ maid. These are the two characters who, through their plotting, make sure Don Alfonso wins his bet.

Quirijn de Lang who sings Don Alfonso and Gillene Butterfield who takes on the role of Despina are no strangers to Opera North and have appeared on stage together several times before. We were keen to discover what they thought of Mozart’s masterpiece and how they were finding performing together again.

Quirijn de Lang as Don Alfonso © James Glossop

What’s your history with this opera?

Quirijn: I first did Così fan tutte in music college in Philadelphia when I sang Guglielmo. In fact, it was also the first role I sang at Opera North. It feels really special to return to this brilliant production in the role of Don Alfonso.

Gillene: Since joining the Chorus of Opera North, I’ve been involved in Tim Albery’s production several times both in the chorus and also covering Despina. I’m beyond excited to get to play her in this revival with this wonderful cast. I have a soft spot for Despina as she’s one of the first roles I ever learnt at music college.

You’ve sung together several times before – what’s it like being reunited on stage again?

Quirijn: Gillene and I have been in many shows together at Opera North. The Merry Widow and A Little Night Music spring to mind – and also Street Scene where Gillene played the pivotal role of Rose so beautifully and I was her rather lecherous boss who tried to seduce her with dreams of fame and fortune! It’s lovely to be able to play off someone you know so well, especially in these two ‘schemer’ roles.

Gillene: It’s great to work with Quirijn again. Don Alfonso and Despina are both sharp-minded and great foils for each other and it’s been fun to work with Quirijn on the ‘recit’ (sung speech) where the two characters plot and scheme together.

Alexandra Lowe as Fiordiligi, Gillene Butterfield as Despina and Heather Lowe as Dorabella © James Glossop

Tell us about the characters you play.

Quirijn: Don Alfonso is an 18th-century thinker with an interest in ‘the human condition’. He’s decided to conduct an experiment into fidelity using two of his soldier friends. It’s important that the four subjects are not aware that this is his actual plan, so he suggests a wager to the men that their fiancées’ won’t stay faithful if tested. In the end, the lovers have experienced all the emotions of real relationships, but Alfonso is left alone with his sterile philosophy. In that way, he fits the definition of a catalyst: creating reactions whilst staying untouched by them himself.

Gillene: Despina has a great confidence and strong sense of self. She’s the only character who’s a servant or seen to be ‘lower class’ amongst the six of them, but she still speaks frankly about her opinions on men to her two mistresses! She also holds her own with the philosopher Don Alfonso, who plays a risky game with all of their emotions just to prove his point.

What’s your favourite part of the opera?

Quirijn: Mozart wrote his most beautiful music for this opera, so there’s a lot to enjoy. If I were to pick one moment, it’s when Fiordiligi, trying so hard to stay faithful to Guglielmo, finally gives in to Ferrando. At that moment, he’s also distraught after having found out that his girlfriend has cheated on him with his best friend. In this scene, we see two people who are drowning and clinging desperately to their only life raft – each other.

Gillene: My favourite part of the opera to listen to is ‘Our love is a flower’ sung by Ferrando, but my favourite moment where I’m involved is the Act II finale, where the whole plot is revealed and everyone deals with the fallout.

Antony Gregory as Ferrando, Heather Lowe as Dorabella, Quirijn de Lang as Don Alfonso, Henry Neill as Guglielmo, Alexandra Lowe as Fiordiligi and Gillene Butterfield as Despina © James Glossop

What makes this production stand out?

Quirijn: What I love about Opera North’s production is that it really focuses on the characters as they move through this emotional maze. I think director Tim Albery has done a brilliant job in making every reaction meaningful. The boys, for example, can be feeling trepidation about having to do the next task in fooling their loved ones, but that same reaction reads like shyness to the ladies, and so it makes sense from both sides.

Gillene: I like this production as it’s played for real. The stakes are high and the comedy comes from the situations the characters are placed in and from the pressure Don Alfonso places them all under. The camera obscura set and costumes are fantastic, too.

Why should people make Così fan tutte their must-see on tour?

Quirijn: They will get to hear Mozart’s most glorious music in an extremely well-crafted production, brought to you by – from what I’ve witnessed around me on stage – some very talented performers.

Gillene: People should definitely come and see it, because Mozart’s music in this opera is not to be missed!

Così fan tutte is currently on tour, with performances at Nottingham Theatre Royal, Newcastle Theatre Royal, The Lowry in Salford and Hull New Theatre.

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