Last spring, a Yale College Opera Company performance had a critic from Opera News raving, “I never thought I’d live to see a performance of Die Fledermaus that was actually funny, with the singers having a genuinely good time.” The YCOC has another winner with this weekend’s production of “Cosi fan tutte.”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart collaborated with Lorenzo Da Ponte on three operas, the last of which was “Cosi fan tutte,” (The School for Lovers), in 1790. Presented in Italian with helpful English subtitles projected onto a black curtain, the comedic opera explores how easily a woman’s devotion to her lover can be undone.
The story revolves around two young Italian officers, Ferrando (Stephen Hopkins ’05) and Guglielmo (Janson Woodlee ’03), whose faith in their lovers, Dorabella (Grace Kuckro ’03) and her sister Fiordiligi (Claire Owen ’04), sickens their mutual friend, the ever-cynical Alfonso (Patrick Levin ’05). Give me a day, Alfonso brazenly announces to his buddies, and I’ll show you that all women are the same, and they aren’t to be trusted.
Indeed, they’re not. The men trick Dorabella and Fiordiligi into thinking their lovers have been called to war, and within hours, the women have taken two new partners, actually Ferrando and Guglielmo in disguise — each with the other’s sweetheart.
As lovebirds straighten things out, the opera proves to be rather misogynous. (“How can we change so much in one day?” asks Fiordiligi. “We’re women!” replies her sister.) But the deceptive men are hardly chivalrous, and when the production opened Wednesday night to a packed house, it was the women who stole the show.
Kuckro and Owen are both talented singers and actresses, though their approaches are different. Kuckro’s forte is her charisma and flair — as well, of course, as her strong and effortless mezzo voice. Her movement bursts with energy, and her stage sense seems to tell her exactly when to plant her tongue firmly in cheek and when to relax into a poised stillness. Owen plays a more reserved character — at least initially, her soprano voice dominates her performance. Though she doesn’t have Kuckro’s verve, her character is just as consistent and even grows in intensity over the two acts.
Musically, the artists’ talents fully emerge in the opera’s fast and furious moments, when four or five melodies layer to form a vibrant, powerful musical texture. The group scenes are staged simply but effectively by director Vira Slywotzky ’04 and serve as comedic highlights as well. When Ferraro and Guglielmo first appear on stage in disguises (each with a fake moustache and fez), or when the women’s maid, Despina (Stephanie Neely ’05), conducts an awkward, double-marriage scene at the end of Act II, the laughs seem almost written into the score. But the performers occasionally have a little trouble synchronizing with Perry So ’04 and his 25-piece orchestra. Eighteenth-century critics of Mozart complained that his music had too many notes, but these days we can take this as a compliment to the performers rather than as a slight to the composer. The dizzying speed of some of the runs makes it understandable that a few notes are dropped here and there.
Which isn’t to take anything away from the performance. Opening night jitters seemed to debilitate the men of the cast and forced a few errors and technical glitches, but as Alfonso says, in a moment of inspiration, “Fortunate is the man who takes everything for the best.” An audience with a sense of humor can appreciate not only the fun inherent in the libretto, but also the spirit with which the cast and musicians approach the production. Everyone in the cast, including the chorus members dressed in all black, takes a light and playful approach to the production. An apparent compact not to take the operatic endeavor too seriously, for which we must thank Slywotzky again, makes the opera a joy to attend because it is obviously such a joy to perform.
For the Saturday performance, the role of Dorabella will be sung by Carolyn Kriss ’06, the role of Despina will be sung by Megan Stern ’06, and Darien Lamen ’04 will play Guglielmo.