Story: Two Italian officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, are excited about their upcoming marriages to sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi, respectively. Their delight is challenged, however, by Don Alfonso, a mature and cynical philosopher. Alfonso wagers the two young men, in fact, that their ladies will not remain faithful to them, since that is the way of all women (“cosi fan tutte”).
The officers accept Alfonso’s bet and feign departure to war to their fiancées. Soon after they leave, they return to the ladies’ home disguised as Albanian adventurers, a pair of supposedly dashing gents who proceed to woo Dorabella and Fiordiligi. With the help of the women’s deceptive maid Despina, the wheels are set in motion for all to prove that the fidelity of a woman is simply fiction.
Highlights: Opera Theatre of Saint Louis concludes its three-year cycle of the trio of famous operas composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in collaboration with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte with a rousing and audience-pleasing rendition of Cosi fan Tutte, the fourth time OTSL has mounted a presentation of this amusing comedy. With an easy-to-follow cast of six and light-hearted hijinks in abundance, there’s little trouble understanding the continuing popularity of the piece, especially with the deft touch of director Michael Shell and conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni.
Other Info: Soprano Rachel Willis-Sorensen makes an impressive OTSL debut as the wavering betrothed, Fiordiligi. Like her able colleagues, she is deft with comedy as well as accomplished with her operatic turns, making for an agreeable performance.
A pair of OTSL rookies from last year’s season, Liam Bonner (Pelleas and Melisande) and David Portillo (Don Giovanni) delight as they lumber and trudge their way through their masquerades as hot-blooded, eastern Europeans as the two officers, contributing their capable baritone and tenor ranges, respectively, as Guglielmo and Ferrando.
Mezzo-soprano Kathryn Leemhuis, a former OTSL Gerdine Young Artist, sparkles as the pliable Dorabella, while James Maddalena brings a steady presence to the sagacious and skeptical Don Alfonso. While Leemhuis contributed flair and humor to her role, Maddalena had trouble on opening night getting much power behind his steady baritone, shaping his role more with nuance than with strength.
The opera’s plum part belongs to the singer who tackles the character of Despina, and Jennifer Aylmer was more than up to the task. Whether disguising herself as a physician or a notary or chiding her ladies for possibly believing that their fiancés could remain faithful to them as soldiers in faraway lands, Aylmer shapes her clear soprano voice to mine the rich comic material written by Da Ponte as well as the agreeable tunes penned by Mozart.
Shell’s direction keeps the production rightly focused on the comedy, with the players given great latitude on the wide-open set designed by James Schuette. The latter incorporates several doors to allow for quick action as much as his ornate costumes highlight both the relative stations of the characters and the buffoonish approach of the officers in their garish Albanian garb.
Ashley Ryan created the timely wig and makeup design, Christopher Akerlind adds lighting, Sean Curran provides the humorous choreography and Shaun Sheley adds some light-hearted touches to the fight choreography. Zeitouni gets a spirited reading of the engaging Mozart score from members of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, accompanied by Damien Francoeur-Krzyzek at fortepiano and violincellist Melissa Brooks.
Entertaining if overly long at more than three hours, Cosi fan Tutte adds to the illustrious 2012 season at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Opera: Cosi fan Tutte
Group: Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
Venue: Browning Mainstage, Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
Dates: June 6, 9, 14, 20, 22
Tickets: From $25 to $120; contact 961-0644 or ExperienceOpera.org
Photos courtesy of Ken Howard