BWW Review: COSI FAN TUTTE Meets GREASE At The Juilliard School
Of numerous operaphiles I have encountered, there is a fair amount of partisanship when it comes to COSI FAN TUTTE by Mozart. People either love it or dislike it. I believe the plot is partially to blame; an aging bachelor challenges two younger friends to test their fiancees' devotion and supposedly steadfast natures. They young men disguise themselves and woo each other's prospective mates.
Unfortunately, the girls capitulate and prove the old cynic right, much to the chagrin of the men. The opera has some of Mozart's most captivating music and never fails to send chills down my spine even though I have been listening to it for many years.
Sunday afternoon I attended the final performance of this season's Juilliard run of this masterpiece. This production sets the action at Naples West High School, an updating of the original libretto's locale of Naples, Italy. The characters are either high school seniors or in the case of the older protagonist, Don Alfonso, a janitor. Despina, who in the libretto was a maid, is a professor observing and partaking in the action and later on becomes a doctor and in the finale, an Elvis clone, who is posing as a marriage notary. During the overture, one of Mozart's best, the students are flipping through their yearbook photos.
Then the plot begins and it's off to the races! The young men first appear in hippie garb, but later assume the garb of college preppies. The girls change their garb from teen to young adult as the act proceeds. Despina's costumes change according to the various disguises she assumes. A few years ago, the Metropolitan Opera produced a COSI which was set in a Coney Island type amusement park, with a host of acrobats and performers who you would expect to see there. As a traditional opera lover who was brought up on painted flats and realistic scenery, I was prepared to dislike it, but found myself enchanted. Why? Because COSI is the height of farce, but such a work of genius, that it transcends the setting and direction.
The senior students who participated in the performance all contributed vivid portrayals. They readily bought into the transfer of time and place that the director, David Paul, imaginatively imposed on them. The two young men, Ferrando and Guglielmo, were respectively, James Ley, and the robust baritone, Erik Van Heyningen. Mr. Ley sang a gorgeous "un'aura amorosa" in the first act.
Their female counterparts were Megan Moore as Dorabella and Kathleen O'Mara as Fiordiligi, who, rightfully, brought down the house in her second act aria "Per pieta". The chameleon Despina, was Mer Wohlgemuth, adapting brilliantly to the various characters she must assume in the libretto. The orchestra was beautifully paced by Nimrod David Pfeffer. The production dispensed with the chorus, whose music was heard on an iPhone, a nod to the updated libretto.
The audience had a wonderful time, the parallel to Broadway's GREASE too great to ignore.
Well-done work , as always, by the Juilliard School.