Monday, August 10, 2009

Merola Opera: Così fan tutte

Merola Opera
Così fan tutte
Cowell Theater at Fort Mason Center
Friday, August 7, 2009, 8 pm

Ari Pelto, conductor
Robin Guarino, Director

Benjamin LeClair, Don Alfonso
John Chest, Guglielmo
Alex Mansoori, Ferrando
Ellie Jarrett, Dorabella
Lara Ciekiewicz, Fiodiligi
Caitlin Mathes, Despina

Così fan tutte already makes me uncomfortable, so I was immediately dismayed when I entered the theater & saw a setting that was some sort of rehearsal studio, with no sign of 18th century Naples. For a while we had Guglielmo & Ferrando as actors showing up for their 1st day of work with Don Alfonso as their director. However, either the concept petered out or the production team ran out of ideas, for by Act II things were looking much more standard. I did appreciate that wherever possible things were played for laughs & that it was an appropriately silly staging. The Act I finale had some great funny business, as when the 4 pranksters used Don Alfonso's cell phone to take pictures of themselves in their ridiculous outfits.

I really liked the singing of Caitlin Mathes as Despina. Her voice is high, clean, bright & pretty, & she did a wonderfully comic flat accent as the notary in the Act II finale. John Chest, as Guglielmo, sounds deeper than one expects when looking at him. He sang Il cor vi dono shirtless, placing himself squarely in barihunk territory. Lara Ciekiewicz has a voice that is penetrating in the high register, good for Fiodiligi's high-flying arias, though she interpolated some steps into one of those broad leaps in Come scoglio. Alex Mansouri sounded fluid & secure, if at times squeezed, in the demanding part of Ferrando. Ellie Jarrett's Dorabella was suitably vivacious yet goofy, & I liked her gritty mezzo voice. Benjamin LeClair has an open, slightly raw sound, & he made himself a significant presence throughout, despite the role's lack of arias.

For me the best parts of the evening were the many glorious ensembles. I always heard every singer during the tutti parts, & the orchestra, not being in a pit, had a strong presence. The combined sound was very full, & the finales came across powerfully in the relatively small Cowell Theater.

During the intermission I was introduced, with a little trepidation, to Joshua Kosman. I was relieved to find him funny, friendly & welcoming to bloggers. I believe he was surprised to discover that Axel Feldheim is nothing but a rather misleading pseudonym. It was also a pleasant surprise to meet in person Maura Lafferty of the New Century Chamber Orchestra. And The Opera Tattler pointed out to me oboeinsight, who was in the orchestra & played some fine solos.


Gavin Plumley said...

Why so uncomfortable about this joyous piece? I think it's a brilliant study of character and reaction, quite opposed to the pacey farce of FIGARO. It's more like the episodic scènes lyriques of DON G, but without the 'moral majority' nonsense. If Axel Feldheim is a pseudonym, I wonder what your real name is... how wonderfully COSÌ of you to conceal your real identity. If you can dare uncover, Gavin Plumley can be easily found on Facebook and would welcome the friendship.

Patty said...

Gee, I had no idea that wasn't your real name. Silly me ...? (Should it be easily seen as such?)

Thanks so much for the mention. After reading a bad review I immediately went into my "I'm fooling myself" mode. (Yes, I do that very quickly.)

I would have loved to meet you. Opera Tattler said a quick "hi" at the end of the performance, and Maura came to the "pit" to chat for a short time. I love finding out (after!) that people I read are out there. (Unless, of course, I've embarrassed myself horribly!) :-/

Unknown said...

I enjoyed meeting you as well!

Axel Feldheim said...

I find Così a very disturbing work, & I still haven't worked out all my responses to it. It seems to be about insincerity, & turning operatic expressions of love against themselves, & it has an almost angry finale. Yet it's the most amazing music too. I think the overture, well-played, is worth half the price of admission.

I'm afraid that my careless use of a secret identity does cause some surprise. I never thought Axel would attract that much attention, but I think I can grow into the persona. Someday I hope Axel can meet each & every one of you!

Civic Center said...

"Cosi" has been disturbing people since day one, possibly because the music is Mozart at his most sublime while the libretto is a smutty couple-swapping tale. Plus, the eponymous moral is that all women are the same: immoral, lying, and deluded in love.

The only production I've ever been able to sit through all the way through was the recent one at the San Francisco Opera with Frederica von Stade as Despina (and I forget who sang everything else) set in Monte Carlo on the eve of World War One. When everybody is on the cusp of dying, then mad, perfect, endless love among young people seems perfectly sane. Though I don't think that was daPonte had in mind, it helped.

Axel Feldheim said...

I saw that SF Opera Così with von Stade as well. I believe that Paul Groves & Nathan Gunn were also in the cast. It was a great production, though it took me a while to get used to von Stade's middle-aged Despina. The beach resort atmosphere of the production still did not assuage my difficulties with the work itself.

Patty said...

I saw one on YouTube where the men come back disguised as hippies. (Berlin Staatsoper 2002 production.) That worked for me ... the era of "free love" and all that.

Yeah, the plot is disturbing. My husband really reacted to that. I'm in the pit. I only react to the music (silly me!) ... somehow I can dump all the rest. I wonder if I saw a live performance that I wasn't playing if I would be more bothered. Probably.

Or maybe I'm just callous. Women are like that ....


Axel Feldheim said...

Very good! :)

Yes, I can see how the boys coming back as free-love hippies could work. It also makes perfect sense that the musicians in the pit just worry about the music. For the audience what is so weird is that much of this glorious music is in the service of fake emotions.

Patty said...

The first time I played the opera I just fell in LOVE with the trio "Soave il vento". I can't tell you how disappointed I was when I first realized they were all emotional about a trick, and that Don Alfonso was in on it. So yeah, I understand that!