BWW Reviews: AVA's COSI FAN TUTTE Shows How To Do An Update That Works
There's a dire temptation for directors to update anything and everything according to whatever whim takes them, whether in music or in theatre. It's led to Gilbert and Sullivan's THE MIKADO being set at an English seaside hotel (where executioners normally congregate, I'm sure) and to CORIOLANUS being staged a battle between American frontiersmen and Native Americans. It's led to other, even more ridiculous, efforts to make something "relevant" by throwing it into whatever inappropriate setting comes to mind. And then there are efforts that make sense.
Mozart's COSI FAN TUTTE might not suggest itself as ripe for an update, but when it was first performed in 1790, it was hardly meant as a period piece. The Academy of Vocal Arts update by director Nic Muni works - moving it to the 1960's, where questions about a partner's fidelity were certainly easily tested by the free love movement, and where the backdrop of Vietnam colored everything.
Rather than disguising themselves as Algerians, the heroes, Guglielmo (Jared Bybee) and Ferrando (Alasdair Kent) transform themselves from newly-commissioned clean-cut ROTC officers into a pair of cheerfully disreputable hippies pining for the love of Fiordigli (Melinda Whittington) and Dorabella (Alexandra Schenck). It's not quite clear why this Don Alfonso (Andre Courville), a straitlaced retired Marine colonel, claims at all convincingly that these two dropped-out, tuned-in, turned-on gentlemen are close friends of his (this is the one plot point in the updating that simply doesn't work), but he introduces them to the two young women whose fiancés have allegedly been sent off to fight.
Pivotal as ever, and more present than in the original, is the infamous Despina, the maid who's cheerily complicit with Don Alfonso. Here played spectacularly both in voice and acting ability by Sydney Mancasola, she's a comic gem who's fortuitously given far more stage time than the original version gave the character.