Thursday, November 15, 2012
COSI FA JUILLIARD
We cannot seem to get enough of Juilliard. From undergraduates trying out their performing wings at the Liederabends to fully professional rising stars, performances are invariably of the highest quality. Last night's opening of Così Fan Tutte is a case in point. In cooperation with The Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, the Ellen and James S. Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts at The Juilliard School presented a performance of Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte that would be a winner in any big city in the world. It was astutely cast with gifted young singers from both houses and directed by the esteemed Stephen Wadsworth. The superb Juilliard Orchestra conducted by Alan Gilbert, Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, did credit to their training and also to Maestro Gilbert's intense guidance and rapport with the instrumentalists. Mozart's melodies were handled with both sensitivity and gusto. The harpsichordist was Bryan Wagorn.
What about this strange story, libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte? It is strange because it is funny and tragic at the same time. What makes it amusing is the moral and actual blindness of the two sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella who fail to recognize the disguises of their fiancés and their servant Despina. What makes it tragic is the resulting moral uncertainty as to which of the two men each young woman really loves as well as the price paid for confusing love and lust. In these dark times of ours, Director Stephen Wadsworth has chosen to emphasize the dark side of the opera which is generally played as a piece of fluff. Even the comic antics have an edge of disturbing hysteria. There is no happy ending here as the four lovers are literally brawling at the end. There is also a great deal of anger in Mr. Wadsworth's concept, manifested by overturned furniture and thrown objects. Yes, love is painful and happy endings are not realistic. So we must accept our failures and disappointments.
The two sisters were well cast. Soprano Emalie Savoy brought Fiordiligi to life as the more conflicted of the two. Her "Per pietà, ben mio, perdona" was beautifully sung and the trace of tightness in her Act I "Come scoglio" was gone. Mezzo Wallis Giunta portrayed Dorabella, the somewhat more adventuresome of the two; she is as lovely to look at as to listen to. We especially enjoyed her "Smanie implacabile".
Mezzo Naomi O'Connell was pure delight as the wily servant Despina, seemingly evolved from the commedia del'arte tradition. She was full of lively energy and exhibited fine technique in "Una donna a quindici anni". Her advice to her two mistresses kept the audience giggling and her mannerisms firmly established the differences in social class. She managed to portray the doctor and the notary with a minimum of "shtick".
The two friends fared equally well in both vocalism and dramatics. Tenor Alexander Lewis was a charming Ferrando who sang a lyrical "Un'aura amorosa". Baritone Luthando Qave gave a fine performance as Guglielmo who lords it over Ferrando after having seduced Ferrando's fiancée Dorabella; after Ferrando seduces the reluctant Fiordiligi, he "sings a different tune".
Bass Evan Hughes was most convincing as Don Alfonso and succeeded in establishing his character during the overture. He charmed us in his aria "Oh, poverini, per femmina giocar cento zecchini?" in which he mocks the two young men who accept his wager.
The entire cast, a symmetrical one to be sure, operated successfully as an ensemble and created believable characters. Duets, trios and ensembles were beautifully balanced. The size of the house was perfectly matched by the size of the voices.
The Scenic Design by Chalie Corcoran and the Costume Design by Camille Assaf were true to period (18th c.) and place (Naples) adding to the verisimilitude. Lighting by David Lander was spot on, without calling attention to itself.