Monday, February 28, 2011

Opera review: Second 'Cosi' cast shows off voices of great promise

Patricia Risley and Joel Prieto in Così fan Tutte.

By Rex Hearn

This refined,‭ ‬delicate,‭ ‬good-looking production of Mozart’s‭ ‬Così fan Tutte,‭ ‬with swaths of brilliantly lit open spaces,‭ ‬marble statues and lovely costumes,‭ ‬harks back to productions at the Salzburg Festival in‭ ‬1982‭ ‬--‭ ‬even down to the same sunshade beach umbrella.

There’s nothing wrong with that:‭ ‬Imitation is the finest form of flattery,‭ ‬after all.‭ ‬It shows the careful planning that went into this staging,‭ ‬because this opera,‭ ‬a bit of puffery really,‭ ‬demands focus on the music.‭ ‬And what brilliant tunes Mozart writes for Lorenzo Da‭ ‬Ponte’s crazy libretto about faithfulness,‭ ‬trust and constancy,‭ ‬especially in this opera,‭ ‬where one man bets his two young friends their sweethearts will not be true to them.‭

Così fan Tutte came‭ ‬from nowhere.‭ ‬There’s not a‭ ‬line of scholarship to suggest it was ‭ ‬commissioned.‭ ‬My guess is that having worked together on‭ ‬The Marriage of Figaro and‭ ‬Don Giovanni,‭ ‬Mozart and Da Ponte decided to have some fun and write about what they knew best:‭ ‬romantic adventures.‭ ‬Mozart’s many love affairs with his lead sopranos are legion.‭ ‬And Lorenzo Da‭ ‬Ponte had been kicked out of Rome and Venice for his womanizing before arriving in Vienna.

It’s not that he was out of ideas.‭ ‬He wrote‭ ‬50‭ ‬libretti in his‭ ‬90-year span.‭ ‬Also,‭ ‬I bet they split the profits.‭ ‬Mozart,‭ ‬hard up as usual,‭ ‬asked his friend Michael Puchberg for a loan in December‭ ‬1789‭ ‬on certain repayment‭ ‬from the management of the producing‭ ‬theatre the following January.

‭“‬Come to the theatre on‭ ‬20‭ ‬January at‭ ‬10‭ ‬a.m.,‭” ‬he wrote Puchberg,‭ “‬and only you and Joseph Haydn will be allowed to see a rehearsal of my opera.‭” ‬This is all that’s known of the origins of‭ ‬Così fan Tutte.‭

Andrew Schroeder and Caitlin Lynch in Così fan Tutte.

I saw Palm Beach Opera’s production of the opera Saturday.‭ ‬Stage Director Stephen Lawless‭’‬ handling of the cast in movement and set situations is almost flawless,‭ ‬but there’s too much plopping down,‭ ‬using steps for seats.‭ ‬Give them benches,‭ ‬please‭!

Also missing was the huge Mesmer magnet Despina uses to revive the‭ “‬sick‭” ‬men.‭ ‬Instead,‭ ‬a Benjamin Franklin kite charged with electricity in a storm,‭ ‬replaces the magnet.‭ ‬It fits the time frame of this opera perfectly.

Conductor Gianluca Martinenghi conducted beautifully,‭ ‬letting the orchestra accompany the singers in softer tones than is usual,‭ ‬which highlighted their singing.‭ ‬The refinement began with‭ ‬Martinenghi’s subtle baton in a remarkably exquisite reading of the overture.‭

Caitlin Lynch as Fiordiligi‭ ‬was superb,‭ ‬especially her‭ ‬Come scoglio in Act I.‭ ‬Her acting and singing mark her as a young soprano on the cusp of a great opera career.‭ ‬Dorabella,‭ ‬sung by Patricia Risley,‭ ‬has a distinct mezzo soprano voice that blended well with Lynch’s,‭ ‬her every acting gesture just right,‭ ‬never overdone.‭

Abigail Nims,‭ ‬a lovely mezzo,‭ ‬had little to do in this‭ “‬refined‭”‬ production.‭ ‬I’ve seen productions of‭ ‬Così‭ ‬where this small role steals the show in vulgar‭ ‬ways.‭ ‬Not so here.

Baritone Andrew Schroeder gave a magnificent account of his role as Guglielmo.‭ ‬He has a finely tuned instrument that flows along like golden honey.‭ ‬And Joel Pietro,‭ ‬the lovesick tenor Ferrando, ‭ ‬gave a very fine reading of Un’aura amorosa,‭ ‬the Mozart tune that ‭ ‬is most remembered for its phrasing and absolute beauty.‭

The Don Alfonso of bass Matteo Peirone moved about the stage well but was vocally tired that night‭;‬ he sings in all performances.

In the Vienna of‭ ‬1790,‭ ‬this opera had one month’s run in January and a three-month summer run,‭ ‬so if the two authors got their fair share of the receipts,‭ ‬they did well.

Rex Hearn founded the Berkshire Opera Company in Massachusetts.‭ ‬He has reviewed opera in South Florida since‭ ‬1995.

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