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 boastful young men 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 pretend to their fiancées that they are bound for the battlefront. Soon after their supposed departure, they return to the ladies’ home disguised as a pair of dashing Albanian adventurers 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 a woman’s fidelity is only fiction.
Highlights: Strong voices and Mozart’s festive music combine to make this a pleasant offering from Winter Opera under the passionate conducting of Nicholas Giusti and careful stage direction of Corrine Hayes.
Other Info: Cosi fan Tutte, which premiered in Vienna in 1790, is an opera buffa (‘comic opera’) that features music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a libretto by Lorenzo de Ponte. One of Mozart’s most popular operas, Cosi fan Tutte made its American debut in 1922. It’s a good fit for Winter Opera’s philosophy of staging a smaller show in the middle of its three-production season.
While it’s humorous and entertaining, the Winter Opera version trudged along at three hours, including intermission. Thankfully Mozart’s delightfully sprightly music can carry a rendition that can test one’s stamina.
Integral to the success of Winter Opera’s effort was uniformly splendid singing by the primary performers. Company founder and soprano Gina Galati teamed with Sarah Nordin, a mezzo-soprano based in New York City, as the fiancées Fiordiligi and Dorabella, respectively. They handled their arias with considerable poise and polish, milking the comic moments in de Ponte’s libretto along the way.
Baritone Christopher Holmes paired with tenor Daniel Gerdes as the buffoonish gentlemen, Guglielmo and Ferrando, respectively, a pair of young military officers more impressed with their sway over their fiancées than with any semblance of character in themselves or the young women.
Both men have a good time hamming it up as the odd pair of rakish foreigners who coincidentally show up to woo the two young women just as their fiancés supposedly march off to war. The officers become predictably indignant when their women, Dorabella quicker than Fiordiligi, seem to fall under the sway of their foreign enchanters.
Dressed imaginatively in their garish finery by costume designer JC Krajicek, they are all too easily manipulated by the cunning Don Alfonso, played and sung smoothly by baritone Kevin Wetzel like a maestro masterfully moving his musicians through an intricate score.
Leading the performers in their acting chores was a fiery Lily Guerrero as Despina, servant to Fiordiligi and Dorabella. Guerrero grandly interpreted the servant’s saucy demeanor as she urges the two ladies to get out and have some fun while their fiancés are away. It’s a plum role and one that Guerrero handled with style and considerable persuasion.
Scott Loebl’s scenic design not only featured a grand courtyard for the various rendezvous and clandestine meetings that occur but also a pair of handsomely painted portraits by Loebl of the two soldiers with smug countenances that are used as props in several scenes. Sean Savoie’s lighting bathed the settings in a beautiful array of colors.
Giusti led the Winter Opera orchestra with a spirited reading of the uplifting score and Hayes kept the performers focused on their characters and their endless charade of nobility.
While the pacing too often lagged, particularly in the second act, the music of the master Mozart and a number of splendid singing performances made Winter Opera’s Cosi fan Tutte an enjoyable experience.
Opera: Cosi fan Tutte
Group: Winter Opera St. Louis
Venue: Skip Viragh Center for Performing Arts, Chaminade College Preparatory School, 425 South Lindbergh
Dates: Run concluded
Photos courtesy of Riq Dilly