Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Così fan tutte: OperaColorado does Mozart right

If only all other opera companies could accomplish the same quality

Last night was the second performance of Così fan tutte by OperaColorado, a comic opera about the fidelity of lovers by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. While the music may not be Mozart's best, the opera still is a wonderful comic romp through the amorous adventures of two young men and their lovers - a pair of sisters. The alternate title for the opera is La scuola degli amanti (The School For Lovers) using the wit of da Ponte's libretto and the mastery of Mozart's music to give us a lesson in the joy of opera buffa (as well as lessons in fidelity). Così fan tutte is one of the three great operas Mozart wrote with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte (the others being Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni).

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect about the performance was the near perfect blending of voices and orchestra. Carlo Montanaro did a wonderful job leading the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, keeping the instruments light and audible, yet never over-powering the vocalists. Even when Fiordiligi (played by Nicolle Foland) was directed to face into a wall and sing a tender moment in Act II, the words were still paramount with the orchestra providing the sublime accompaniment. We were allowed to hear the beautiful agony in Ms Foland's voice blended perfectly with the orchestra.


Jacques Imbrailo, Leah Summers, Nicolle Foland and Norman Reinhardt
in OperaColorado's Così fan tutte

A great deal of credit is due to the cast as well. Leah Summers, in the role of Dorabella, has beautiful comic timing as well as a stunning voice. The scene leading up to her aria in Act I, Smanie implacabili left me near breathless from laughter. Norman Reinhardt as Ferrando and Jacques Imbrailo as Guglielmo were perfectly matched. Not only did they suit physically, playing off each others actions as if they had been best friends for years, but their voices blended beautifully. Their opening trio with Dale Travis as Don Alfonso really set the stage for an evening of Mozart. Even in Italian the words were clear and yet lyrical, allowing the sentiment of what they were saying to be heard while allowing the wonderful music of Mozart to lilt over the audience. Dale Travis also did well to carry the heavy role of Don Alfonso. He was the first actor on stage and embodied the character from his first step. Susanne Mentzer, in the role of Despina, was spectacular in the role of Despina. Despina assumes a variety of costumes to play out the deceptions orchestrated by Don Alfonso. Ms Mentzer played each new character changing her voice as necessary without losing the music or clarity needed for opera.

The recent trend in opera is to cast singers who can act and OperaColorado did this in spades. Throughout the evening, the laughter of the audience was directly related to the actors on stage. The opera is a comedy, but so much of what they did, from dueling with rolling pins and wire whisks to twitching near death from the effects of poison bordered on farce, perfectly executed for Mozart's opera.

Così fan tutte is filled with asides. This is particularly difficult when singing because there needs to be a noticeable change in the vocal volume and inflection. Norman Reinhardt and Jacques Imbrailo accomplish this beautifully when they jointly sing "Dalla voglia ch'ho di ridere Il polmon mi scoppia or or" (I'm bursting with laughter).

Although it is a comic opera, it has tender moments too. As I mentioned earlier, Ms Foland has a beautiful moment when she turns to the wall and sing, "A chi mai mancò di fede Questo vano ingrato cor? Si dovea miglior mercede, Caro bene, al tuo candor!" (And who is it whom this unworthy heart has betrayed? Dear heart, your trust deserved a better reward!). The emotion in her voice and her body were touching and poignant.

The set by Allen Moyer was an interesting mirrored "box" which set the mood of the lavish room of two aristocratic sisters. It then broke into sections to become a terrace and eventually a church. I found this technically very interesting, although the mirrored effect with the lights occasionally gave the faces an odd glow - something surreal as if from a Fellini film.

David C. Wollard did the costume design. Against the backdrop of the set some of the costumes didn't play as well as perhaps they might. The opening act has the two sisters in pale green print dresses. While the style was perfect for the 1950's concept by director James Robinson, the women tended to fade into the background. In a film, effects with focusing can highlight the foreground which even in black and white, can bring out the characters. On stage the eye needs to be drawn by the costumes.

For the most part, the directing on stage was brilliant. James Robinson was attempting to bring out the comedy, the insanity, the timelessness of the story, while in the end leave us with a sense of ambiguity. Through most of the opera the audience is laughing and enjoying the production. However, there were moments when the actors were placed center stage and just let sing, as during Fiordiligi's aria in Act I, Come scoglio immoto resta (Like a rock standing impervious). While the words say "like a rock", there was so much action leading up to this point with actions highlighting words or providing a double entendre to the words, that it felt as if this aria could have been so much more. Yes, Ms Foland has a beautiful voice. But she can act too (as evidenced in numerous other scenes). So why make the action static at this point?

Let me not be too harsh on the directing or take away from the performance in any way. This was a stunning evening's entertainment and a rare chance to see truly comic opera. At the end of the evening the audience was eager to give a well deserved standing ovation. The cast was allowed to take numerous bows to a very appreciative, nearly sold out audience. I am not certain if there are seats available for the remaining two performances, but you should try to get one at all cost! Così fan tutte by OperaColorado is probably your best chance to see Mozart done right.

Ellie Caulkins Opera House Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis downtown Denver Fri, May 1 at 7:30 pm Sun, May 3 at 2:00 pm Prices: $29-$157 Tickets online: www.OperaColorado.org Tickets by phone: 800-982-ARTS (2787)

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