Fort Worth Opera
Conductor – Garrett Keast
Director – David Gately
Production Designers – Brian Perchauluk, Bernard Uzan, and Michael Baumgarten
Costume Designer – A.T. Jones & Sons
Lighting Designer – Chad R. Jung
Wig and Makeup Designer – Steven Bryant
Stage Manager – Nicholas Rainey
Assistant Director – Michael Yeshion
Repetiteur – Sean Kelly
English Supertitle Translation – Keith A. Wolfe
Spanish Supertitle Translation – Gabriela Lomónaco
Fiordiligi – Jan Cornelius
Dorabella – Kathryn Leemhuis
Ferrando – Scott Quinn
Guglielmo – Paul Scholten
Despina – Kerriann Otaño
Don Alfonso – Tyler Simpson
Photo courtesy: Ellen Appel & Karen Allmon
Reviewed Performance 4/26/2014
Reviewed by Laurie Lynn Lindemeier, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Mozart’s cheeky opera Così fan tutte roared into Bass Performance Hall last Saturday evening with a delightful 1920s production used by the Fort Worth Opera (FWO) and originally designed for Opera Carolina. FWO’s choice of this nontraditional setting fits the sexist tale like a long silk glove on a flapper. Obviously, Mozart’s romantic yarn wasn’t too trashy for modern tastes, since the audience repeatedly responded with plenty of bravo’s and long applauses on opening night. When the opera first appeared in 1790, Brahms and Beethoven both expressed disapproval of the flippant subject matter, but contemporary tastes seem to swallow the scandals just fine. According to Director of Studio and Education Hannah Guinn’s tidy rundown at the preshow lecture, the light-hearted romance is about a couple of pairs – two couples and two troublemakers. The full house comes complete with an old geezer, two young officers, their fairly faithful girlfriends, and a wily chambermaid. The cynical older man convinces the two young fellows, both in crisp white uniforms, to put their lovers’ loyalty to the test. They bet on it. The raucous fun, with the flavor of wife-swapping, ensues for the next 24 hours, which translates into nearly three hours of marvelous Mozart buffa.
Mozart, who reportedly had plenty of women problems himself during the time he composed the work, paired for the third time with his librettist, the colorful Lorenzo da Ponte. Da Ponte reportedly had a scandalous reputation with women and was often tossed out of town. One may wonder how much of the plot was based on his real life experiences rather than “out of his own head” as da Ponte claimed.
General Director Darren Woods harmoniously cast the roles. There were no “stick-out” mismatches, such as a booming voice next to a small one. In addition, the singers obviously worked to blend their voices in the plentiful ensembles. Since this opera contains a greater number of ensemble pieces than most of Mozart’s works, the amalgamation of voices is key. Understandably, Mozart’s brilliant writing certainly makes the merging of voices easier; however, it takes a good Mozart singer to master all of the great composer’s intricate shenanigans on the score. The farewell quintet, “Sento, o Dio” (I feel, oh God, my foot hesitating) is a lovely example of the cast’s skill to play off of each other and do the elegant music justice.
The grand spectacle aria in Act I, with more leaps and twists than a wild Charleston dance, is “Come Scolio.” In this aria the supposedly serious-minded Fiordiligi declares that she is steady as a rock in loyalty to her fiancé. Soprano Jan Cornelius sang this treacherous piece as though she’d been singing it since a toddler. She handled the endless arpeggios and massive leaps with artistry and beauty. In the background her friends flirted and cavorted accentuating the parody between the serious and flirtatious.
Fiordiligi’s sister, Dorabella, is sung by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Leemhuis, who also has quite a voice for Mozart. I enjoyed her venting on the highly-charged aria “Smanie implacabili” (Implacable Fates). I found her comedic facial expressions as entertaining as her lush mezzo tones. Leemhuis also displayed her sense of humor especially well in the aria concerning love’s devilish qualities, “È amore un ladroncello.”
The trouble maker who initiated the romantic chaos is Don Alfonso, sung by baritone Tyler Simpson, who was a rather youthful looking version of this character. Simpson’s strong baritone, while not show-cased in extensive arias, is rich and expressive in the send-off prayerful trio with the sisters, “Soave sia il vento” (May the wind be gentle).
While all of the singers displayed a nonstop sense of humor and mischief in their antics, none could match Kerriann Otaño in her portrayal of the saucy maid Despina who is a master of disguise. She is a maid to be reckoned with, then a white-coated doctor with a jolting medicinal contraption, and lastly a nasal notary with Italian that sports a Southern drawl. This was certainly “Così fan tutte,” with a twang and a twist.
Director David Gately had great fun with the art deco setting, and directed the opening scene to have the men shooting pool and using their cue sticks as faux microphones to croon about their love. Baritone Paul Scholten as Guglielmo delighted the audience with the karaoke-like handling of his cue stick.
Both Scholten and his comrade in crime, Ferrando, sung by tenor Scott Quinn, collected bounteous belly laughs from the audience during their scene with the doctor. They stumbled, shook and convulsed as the good doctor jolted them with the miracle medical machine to cure them of drinking arsenic. Despina, as the doctor, took particular delight in giving them a few extra zaps just for good measure.
The costuming by designers A.T. Jones & Sons was appropriately over-the-top exotic in the elaborate “Albanian” garb worn by all the couples. The pink feather plume of Dorabella’s headdress helped bring home her feather-brained character who flitted from loyalty to infidelity. I was surprised to see the peach and lavender dresses twice and thought the opportunity to dazzle us with one more costume changes might have been taken. However, the black dresses for the mournful moments and bridal gowns for the briskly-arranged wedding added another level of melodrama.
Lighting the stage, composed mostly of bronze-colored beams and arches to depict the art deco interior of a hotel, was accomplished well by lighting designer Chad Jung. He utilized tones of lavender and blue to add variety to a set that changed little.
Conductor Garrett Keast aptly handled the nuances of the orchestration that jumped from serious to buffa with one turn of a score page. The overture introduced the themes which occur throughout the opera. The harpsichord helped to fortify the mock stoicism. All the orchestra members are to be commended for their nimble playing of Mozart’s remarkable comic opera that displays a wide gamut of musical emotions and requires amazing dexterity from each instrument.
The utterly captivating music drew the audience in and perfectly depicted the potent attraction between men and women. You can decide for yourself the accuracy of the title’s popular translation, “Women are like that.”
COSÌ FAN TUTTE
Fort Worth Opera Festival
Bass Performance Hall
4th and Calhoun Streets
Fort Worth, TX 76102
Last performances are Saturday May 3rd at 7:30 pm and Sunday, May 11th at 2:00 pm.
Tickets range from $25.00 to $200.00, depending on the date and seating tier. Military receive a 50% discount. Student rush tickets are available 15 minutes prior to performance with ID. Group prices also available.
Purchase tickets online at www.fwopera.org or call: 817-731-0726 (Toll Free 1-877-396-7372).