Saturday, February 26, 2011

Opera review: PB Opera's 'Cosi' well-sung, craftily staged

Sabina Cvilak and Jurgita Adamonyte in Così fan Tutte.


By Greg Stepanich

The Palm Beach Opera is closing its three-year survey of the Mozart-Da Ponte operas with a somewhat minimalist but well-staged and ably sung production of‭ ‬Così fan Tutte.

Friday night found a cast of young,‭ ‬handsome singers working inside a Stephen Lawless reading of the opera that was easy to understand,‭ ‬almost plausible,‭ ‬and full of smart,‭ ‬interesting stage business that added depth to the action without overwhelming it or detracting from the elegance of the late-Mozart score.

If there wasn‭’‬t much exceptional singing Friday night,‭ ‬there nevertheless‭ ‬was plenty of good vocal work from each of the characters,‭ ‬particularly in the second act,‭ ‬which was noticeably more confident and lively than the first.

The Slovenian soprano Sabina Cvilak,‭ ‬making a return appearance to the house after her turn as Desdemona‭ ‬last season‭ ‬in Verdi‭’‬s‭ ‬Otello,‭ ‬made a‭ ‬good Fiordiligi,‭ ‬especially in her moments of peak emotional crisis in the second act.‭ ‬She has a strong,‭ ‬round voice with a nice darkness in the lower registers,‭ ‬and a highly polished finish throughout its compass.‭

Her work in the big second-act aria‭ ‬Per pietà‭ ‬ben mio was very impressive,‭ ‬with clean shifts in the jumps from top to bottom,‭ ‬and a persuasive interpretive sense of psychological turmoil.‭ ‬Her voice blended beautifully‭ ‬with that of her operatic sister,‭ ‬Lithuanian mezzo Jurgita Adamonyte‭ (‬beginning with the‭ ‬Soave‭ ‬sia il vento in Act I‭)‬,‭ ‬and she managed to make the most of a rather cool stage temperature.

Adamonyte,‭ ‬as Dorabella,‭ ‬was considerably warmer,‭ ‬in part because the character calls for it,‭ ‬but she also is an appealing actress who made her second-act duet with Guglielmo‭ ‬(Il core vi dono‭) ‬delightful to watch.‭ ‬Like Cvilak she‭ ‬has a strong,‭ ‬well-rounded voice,‭ ‬and one with a little more presence.

Her‭ ‬E amore un ladroncello‭ ‬was charmingly sung,‭ ‬and her flirty,‭ ‬happy interpretation‭ ‬of it‭ ‬an excellent match for Dorabella,‭ ‬who too often is asked to present this aria through a sadder-but-wiser scrim of hard-won knowledge.

David Adam Moore and Norman Shankle in Cosi fan Tutte.

The men were equally solid.‭ ‬Tenor Norman Shankle,‭ ‬last season‭’‬s Cassio in‭ ‬Otello,‭ ‬has a lightly colored but forceful and flexible voice that‭’‬s ideal for Mozart.‭ ‬The added‭ ‬heat he brought to his singing in the crucial duet with Fiordiligi added a fresh,‭ ‬nervous color to the voice that was quite attractive.‭

Baritone David Adam Moore was a fine Guglielmo whose voice also has the right kind of weight and suppleness for Mozart.‭ ‬His acting was good,‭ ‬both solo and with Shankle,‭ ‬and his‭ ‬Donne mie,‭ ‬la fate a tanti had a definitive quality to it that made it memorable.

As Don Alfonso,‭ ‬the Italian bass Matteo Peirone was absolutely on point.‭ ‬He had just the right kind of smirky knowingness as the moral philosopher who sets this comedy in motion,‭ ‬and the conversational style of his firm,‭ ‬warm voice embodied the character every bit as much as his acting.

The role of Despina is a gift for a comic singer,‭ ‬and mezzo Abigail Nims was marvelous at it.‭ ‬She has a big voice with a sharp,‭ ‬cutting sound when she needs it,‭ ‬and she got the second act off to a wonderful start with her‭ ‬Una donna a quindici anni.‭ ‬The quality of her singing was apparent early in the first act,‭ ‬and‭ ‬not just with‭ ‬In uomini,‭ ‬in soldati:‭ ‬In the sextet before Fiordiligi‭’‬s‭ ‬Come scoglio,‭ ‬you could‭ ‬hear Nims tossing off those fast leaps‭ ‬at‭ ‬Io non so,‭ ‬se son Vallachi‭ ‬with pinpoint accuracy.‭

It‭’‬s worth pointing out here that this company has benefited in its last couple productions from‭ ‬the casting choices made by David Blackburn,‭ ‬the director of artistic operations.‭ ‬This‭ ‬Così cast was shrewdly assembled using‭ ‬voices of different colors,‭ ‬but with a broad unity of weight and agility‭; ‬Nims‭’‬s voice,‭ ‬which had the tightest focus,‭ ‬added the perfect standout spice to the mix.

Italian conductor Gianluca Martinenghi led the fine Palm Beach Opera Orchestra very carefully,‭ ‬and in the first act kept the volume level way down beneath his singers.‭ ‬It struck me as something too cautious,‭ ‬with the result that‭ ‬some of Mozart‭’‬s wit and vigor were drained out of the music.‭ ‬One missed the usual fire of principal conductor Bruno Aprea,‭ ‬though Martinenghi did an expert job of keeping things moving,‭ ‬and the orchestra played quite well for him.

Stage director Lawless,‭ ‬a veteran of the Glyndebourne touring company,‭ ‬working with a simple,‭ ‬almost severe set from Peter Dean Beck and scenery from the Altanta Opera,‭ ‬fills the space with intelligent choices.‭ ‬When Dorabella and Despina hear out Fiordiligi‭’‬s anguish in Act II,‭ ‬they do so lying on a bed next to each other,‭ ‬heads to the audience and feet toward on the headboard,‭ ‬as Fiordiligi stalks the room.‭ ‬It adds a whimsical‭ ‬Tiger Beat feel to the scene that beautifully sums up‭ ‬the two points of view on the fidelity issue,‭ ‬and makes the situation believable for a modern audience.

‭ ‬Other clever bits include Benjamin Franklin‭’‬s key-and-kite lightning deliverer as a substitute for Dr.‭ ‬Mesmer‭’‬s magnet,‭ ‬and a continuing bit with two colored sashes worn by the women,‭ ‬which for‭ ‬Fiordiligi becomes something of a set of worry beads,‭ ‬and for Dorabella becomes an object of playful seduction in her duet with Guglielmo,‭ ‬which Friday night actually raised some sexual heat.

Greg Ritchey‭’‬s chorus was solid and effective,‭ ‬and Kathy Waszkelewicz‭’‬s costumes were excellent‭ ‬– elegant and lovely at all times for the women‭ (‬even their undergarments at the opening of Act II‭)‬,‭ ‬and getups for the‭ “‬Albanians‭”‬ that almost made them convincing.‭

Così fan Tutte‬will be performed at‭ ‬7:30‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬today at the Kravis Center,‭ ‬with Caitlyn Lynch as Fiordiligi,‭ ‬Patricia Risley as Dorabella,‭ ‬Andrew Schroeder as Guglielmo and Joel Prieto as Ferrando.‭ ‬Friday night‭’‬s cast will return at‭ ‬2‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday,‭ ‬and tonight‭’‬s cast will return at‭ ‬2‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Monday.‭ ‬Tickets start at‭ ‬$23.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬833-7888‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬www.pbopera.org,‭ ‬or call‭ ‬832-7469‭ ‬or visit www.kravis.org.‭


Jurgita Adamonyte,‭ ‬Matteo Peirone
and Sabina Cvilak in Cosi fan Tutte.

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