We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Friday, January 24, 2014


Antonio Figueroa, Pascale Beaudin, Jeffrey Thompson, Claire Debono, Blandine Saskiewicz, Alex Dobson
Although we mainly deplore tinkering with the classics, we enjoyed a delightful evening with Opera Lafayette last night.  They presented a clever pairing of Mozart's 1790 Cosi fan tutte in L.V. Durdilly's French translation of Da Ponte's libretto in tandem with Les Femmes Vengées by François André-Danican Philidor which was composed 15 years earlier.  The concept was to show what happened to Da Ponte's four lovers after ten years had passed.  This pastiche made for an evening as long as Tristan und Isolde but far more lighthearted.

It also permitted the use of a single set and a beautiful one at that.  Misha Kachman created a light and airy space--a central room with a room off to each side and a view of an orange tree representing a garden outside; this permitted characters to be closeted away from the main action and to be listening through the walls.  Indeed it seemed as if the Comédie Française had commissioned the opera from Mozart!

Effective lighting by Colin K. Bills washed the set in warm pastels that reflected the sumptuous costumes by Kendra Rai.  Director Nick Olcott kept the action humming along.  A couple arias were sacrificed and spoken dialogue replaced the recitativi.  A non-singing character, a painter, was invented (or borrowed from the second opera) and Gillaume and Fernand were in his studio to pose for a painting; this action was established during the overture.  As it turned out, the painter did have a singing role in the second opera and tenor Jeffrey Thompson was our favorite performer of the evening, both dramatically and vocally.

Ryan Brown, Artistic Director of Opera Lafayette, conducted with gusto and finesse.  Musical values were topnotch overall.  Although Philidor is not Mozart (well, who is?), no apologies were necessary for his tuneful classicism.  Soprano Pascale Beaudin made a fine Fleurdelise and mezzo Blandine Staskiewicz an equally fine Dorabelle.  Tenor Antonio Figueroa and baritone Alex Dobson sang the roles of their suitors Fernand and Guillaume.  When they appeared in their disguises, they were costumed as trappers from Canada, sporting Davey Crockett hats and lots of fringe.  It absolutely worked.

Don Alphonse was sung by Bernard Deletré who has a commanding onstage presence but whose voice sounded a bit frayed.  Claire Debono was a delightful Delphine.  In the second opera she had married the painter and had risen out of the ranks of servant.  Indeed she orchestrated the comic revenge that the two sisters would take on their wandering husbands.  It was interesting that the second opera was taking place ten years later and the costumes were now of the Empire period, even though the opera was composed earlier.

Making a pastiche of the two operas was well conceived; the theme was infidelity and provided a justification for presenting Mozart's beloved opera in French.  We cannot avoid saying that Italian "sings" better; although we are fluent in French we definitely made use of the titles.  Italian is just more singable.

We do hope that the D.C. based Opera Lafayette will return soon to New York with another imaginative evening.

© meche kroop

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