BWW Review: COSI FAN TUTTE Shines at Winter Opera!

This review by Steve Callahan first appeared on KDHX FM, St. Louis

Gina Galati and her Winter Opera continue to bless St. Louis with exemplary productions! They've just opened "Così fan tutte," and it's a superb presentation of this popular Mozart work.

As usual at Winter Opera the cast is replete with splendid voices. But in "Così fan tutte" I was quite struck by the wonderful balance among the voices of the six principal singers. They are all at the very pinnacle of professional excellence; there is neither a weak link nor a stand-out. The voices seem beautifully matched in tone, timbre, power. Now, given the natural variation among singers, such sweet balance could only have been attained by very careful casting and by deft and subtle direction by conductor Nicolas Giusti. My congratulations to all.

Over the years and across the world "Così fan tutte" is the fourth most-popular opera by the third most popular composer. It's a beloved member of the operatic canon, with hundreds of productions being done every year. The title, "Così fan tutte," translates as "Thus do they all" or (in this context) "All women are like that."

The comic story is simple and silly. Two young officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, brag about the unshakeable fidelity of their fiancées (two sisters, Fiordiligi and Dorabella). Don Alfonso, a cynical scholar, wagers that he can demonstrate the ladies' infidelity in one day. They take the bet and set the plan in motion. The young men are to claim to have been called to war, but then disguise themselves as Albanians and woo each other's lady-love. Exotic clothing and great moustaches fool the girls and the wooing is carried on with zeal and melodrama. ("Oh, I'm dying of love for you!!") Don Alfonso recruits the house-maid Despina to help him win the bet. The girls' resistance is worn down and each, in turn, succumbs-they even sign a mock wedding contract. But disguises are doffed and the original lovers reunited-perhaps a little sadder, but definitely wiser.

Miss Galati shines as Fiordiligi. Her sweet and clear soprano seems to grow in power with each year. She is beautifully matched by mezzo-soprano Sarah Nordin as Dorabella. Miss Nordin's voice has a lovely, slightly darker shade. Their duet, "Ah! guarda sorella" in Act 1 is especially delicious.

The officers are played by Daniel Gerdes as Ferrando and Christopher Holmes as Guglielmo. Again the singers are a beautiful match: Gerdes displaying a lovely lyrical tenor and Holmes a rich and beautiful baritone.

Kevin Wetzel takes the basso role of Don Alfonso. Not only is his voice perfect for the role, but this man is an actor! His movement-each shrug, each gesture, each step-is lovely. He is a remarkably graceful and physically precise actor. I'd wager that were we to ink the soles of his shoes on opening night, his every step in subsequent performances would fall exactly in those inky tracks. And yet so natural!

Another singer who shows delightful and physically precise comic gifts is Lily Guerrero as the very saucy maid, Despina. Such vivacity! Such charm! Her aria, "In uomini, in soldati" in which she teaches the sisters how to enjoy themselves in the absence of their lovers is a delight. Once Despina appears disguised as a doctor, her lovely voice contorted into the bleat of a soprano goat. With a giant magnet she revives the "dying" suitor in one of the evening's most hilarious moments.

As Miss Guerrero sings at one point:
Non è mai senza effetto
Quand'entra la Despina in un progetto.

("When Despina takes a job in hand she always gets results")

The orchestra, under Maestro Giusti, does Mozart great justice. Nary a flaw. And Maestro Giusti himself plays the occasional continuo line at the harpsichord. In this he shows not only lovely musicianship, but also great wit. In the tradition of the time he inserts a few flourishes of improvised ornamentation-phrases from Beethoven's Fifth, the "Wedding March" from Lohengrin, the Neapolitan song "Finiculì, Finiculà," and (could my ears be lying?) "The Star Spangled Banner."

Stage director Corrine Hayes manages her players wonderfully. Every move is natural, stage pictures are well-composed, the chorus of servants and musicians is given lovely detail, and every instrumental passage is filled with meaningful physical action.

One characteristically clever directorial choice was to introduce the ladies adding finishing touches to portraits of their lovers rather than admiring miniatures as indicated in the libretto. This lets the audience see the images and allows a literally "smashing" moment later on. All in all a beautiful job by Ms. Hayes.

Technical aspects of the production are again quite splendid. The setting, by Scott Loebl, is spacious and elegant with, above and behind, a lovely sky-scape. After an interior scene Mozart gives us a short "carpenter's scene" in front of the grand drape. When the curtain is drawn we find that the elegant interior has been transformed into a beautiful garden, furniture replaced by a fountain and benches, flowers adorning the walls and balustrades, and the rosy marble palace walls totally altered by Sean Savoie's lighting. The backdrop now shows a gorgeous expanse of garden with poplars. It's magic! And it's all done so quickly, so silently! Bravo to stage manager M.K. Jacobi and all her crew.

Savoie's lighting occasionally steeps the vast sky in emotion as dusk and night follow the pleasant day.

J.C. Krajicek's costumes are beautiful, properly period and well-fitted.

Technical director Joseph Novak has given us a magnificent environment for all these magnificent voices.

It is, alas, true that for a very light comedy three hours is just a bit long, but that's only Mozart's fault-and his music is so lovely.

Winter Opera's production of "Così fan tutte" played at the beautiful Viragh Center at Chaminade on January 22 and 24.

(Photos by Riq Dilly)



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From This Author Steve Callahan