Opera News Review: Così fan tutte

_MG_892220170713160027Megan Marino (Despina) and Tamara Gura (Dorabella) in Central City Opera’s production of Così fan tutte
Photography by Amanda Tipton

Così fan tutte
Central City Opera

GIVEN THE SMALL DIMENSIONS of its Opera House stage (not to mention the 550-seat capacity auditorium), Central City Opera made a logical choice in mounting Mozart’s intimately scaled Così fan tutte (seen July 19). Shockingly, the work has not been offered by the company in almost twenty years. Stage director Stephen Barlow relied on the considerable skills of his principal cast of six, offering lively direction that blessedly kept the silliness mostly in check. He even inserted a rare touch of humanity with an unexpected semi-sad ending. The production likewise began with a surprise. As the curtain went up, the audience may have been puzzled by the setting: an old-fashioned three-tier college classroom, led by black-robed Professor Don Alfonso (Patrick Carfizzi) concluding an anatomy lesson, complete with human skeleton. The sub-title of the opera is, after all, “The School for Lovers,” and Barlow took it from there. Our amorous quartet was first seen toting textbooks and flirting and consorting, as students do. That school days theme would return again during Act II’s drawing class, which concluded with the lovely young artists parading across the stage, proudly showing us their sketches. Though designer Andrew D. Edwards’ imposing lecture hall was cleverly utilized (lots of running up and down stairs), its size posed a potential problem when the scene changed—but Edwards and director Barlow cleverly took advantage of the stage’s full-size turntable, which could swivel around to reveal an interior or an exterior (complete with hanging ivy for the garden scene). This provided tricky challenges for a lighting designer, but David Martin Jacques once again was up to the task. As costume designer, Edwards also had great fun with the updated setting, dressing the cast in late-Victorian-era American styles. Naturally, the half-baked, minimally mustachioed Albanian disguises fooled no one in the audience—just the lovelorn sisters. But then, this third and final Mozart-Da Ponte collaboration never intended to stray as close to real life as its two predecessors. This was all carried out in good humor, though at the end, Barlow touchingly revealed the hurt feelings and sense of betrayal resulting from Alfonso’s prank. As the curtain fell, the director left Dorabella (Tamara Gura) sobbing as she sat alone, while everyone else celebrated her sister’s wedding. It made for an interesting denouement.

This was, nonetheless, a cheerful, occasionally funny production. One way of measuring the comedic success of any Così is the ability of Despina to steal the show. And here, Megan Marino came through, in her company debut. Her frame is small, but her voice is big and flexible, her comic timing faultless—she was the ideal soubrette, playfully delivering “In uomini, in soldati” and endlessly rolling her eyes. Barlow allowed her to go over the top when called for, and Marino never missed a step, drawing audience guffaws as the harsh-voiced justice-of-the-peace. As her partner-in-crime, Alfonso, Carfizzi proved to be an ideal ring master. Carfizzi was everywhere, nimbly setting up the bet and singing with authority when he wasn’t silently observing the goings-on from the darkness of stage left. Meanwhile, the four lovers fretted and flirted and fussed with bright abandon, making a well-balanced quartet. As Fiordiligi, Hailey Clark triumphed in “Come scoglio” and “Per pietà,” displaying little trouble with the former’s leaps and bounds, while acquiring a warm, floating soprano and effortless trills in the latter. Gura’s Dorabella, too, made the most of her solo turns, notably in an anguished but controlled “Smanie implacabili.” As Ferrando, Matthew Plenk overcame a few weak spots in “Un’aura amorosa,” finally revealing a warm, secure tenor in “Ah lo veggio.” David Adam Moore, like Plenk making his company debut, sang with assurance as Guglielmo, his baritone easily reaching every corner of the Opera House, colored with full effect in “Donne mie, la fate a tanti.” The cast blended impeccably in those dreamy ensembles. Company music director John Baril kept the pace brisk, providing a sympathetic accompaniment from his fine pit orchestra (recitatives were accompanied on piano).
—Marc Shulgold, Opera News

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