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Mozart's Così fan tutte

Dates 12, 15, 17, and 19 March 2005 at 20.00 Venue Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Reviewer J H Stape

 

 

Fiordiligi Ute Selbig Dorabella Kimberly Barber Despina Kathleen Brett Ferrando John Tessier Guglielmo Nathan Berg Don Alfonso Thomas Goerz

Conductor John Keenan Stage Director Allison Grant Sets Robert Dahlstrom Lighting Gerald King Stage Manager Sheila Munn


Woe to the happy for they are but dupes. Cynics, money, and power (mostly male) rule the world; women are victims; and love mainly a sell. Director Allison Grant's Konzept is the true star of Vancouver Opera's production of Cosi fan tutte. After nearly three hours of endless melody -- glorious duets, trios, quintets, marches -- all harmonies prove frothy and false. We, the audience, have been royally duped. Worse, we are also guilty. Don Alfonso the cynic wins the day, Despina goes off in an angry huff, and the mismatched couples face a future of regret, their broad smiles resembling fixed grimaces.

This may not be Mozart's or da Ponte's Così, but it is extraordinarily compelling way of re-inventing and unsettling a relentlessly conventional, even nonsensical, comedy written for Vienna in 1790. Everything in it is bogus: from the sun-drenched and moonlit Bay of Naples in the background to Mozart's happy tum-tee-tum music.

For once the Mozart Is Us® approach works, and greater fools we for wanting the world to be better than it is. Hey, that's Bill and Fred up there, not Guglielmo and Ferrando, caught in their own arrogant meshes. If as the title has it, translated in this production as "They're all the same" (a quibble: "They all act that way," and there is a difference between being and doing), the moral also applies to the male trio triumphantly belting out this little insight -- and to us, complicitous even in our blindness.

Allison Grant's direction is a revelation, but its complete success relies squarely on a cast endowed with superb acting skills and deeply committed to ensemble work. In the musical category, the evening's most successful performances were the Vancouver Opera Orchestra's under John Keenan and Kathleen Brett's wonderfully crafted Despina, shot through with comic sense and equally convincing as the disenchanted victim of an idle aristocracy trifling with feelings out of boredom or for amusement.

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On the whole, the male cabal was more convincing vocally than its female opposite number. John Tessier delivered a tasteful, idiomatic Ferrando. He was nicely partnered by Nathan Berg's impressively sung Guglielmo, Berg's smoky, large baritone being used to full effect. If at times Thomas Goerz seemed too youthful "an old philosopher," his Don Alfonso was intelligently sung.

The Fiordiligi of Kimberly Barber was a wholly satisfying, note perfect performance, conveying both the vapidness of the future trophy wife as well as real heartbreak. Ute Selbig used a not especially pretty but well honed voice effectively and for maximum dramatic impact.

The Seattle Opera's sets were not simple eye-candy, the ever-changing frames suggesting the inescapable framing of life and mutability. Even the bright sunlight and silver moonlight served to reinforce the truism that "There's nothing new under the sun." But in a work of contradictions there was, contradictorily, indeed: "Comedy is dead." And this time the death rattle is real. For those who demand more of opera than re-seeing old chestnuts, this production is a triumph, its ideas lingering long after the instruments have been packed up and the lights put out.

2005 J. H. Stape


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