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Così Fan Tutte

Los Angeles Philharmonic

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Christopher Alden's Los Angeles Philharmonic production of Così Fan Tutte at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, featuring stage designs by Zaha Hadid
Craig T. Mathew and Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging
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Philippe Sly's Guglielmo
Craig T. Mathew and Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging
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Roxana Constantinescu as Dorabella and Miah Persson's Fiordiligi
Craig T. Mathew and Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging

The best art often defies expectations, and so it was on May 25 at Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles.  The Los Angeles Philharmonic's cycle of the Mozart–DaPonte operas is now in its third year; by rights Così Fan Tutte should have been the least successful presentation of the trio, as it is written on the smallest scale and is the least suited to the open space of the Disney Concert Hall.  Despite the visual strangeness of Christopher Alden's production, this Così allowed us to savor the full measure of Mozart's score. Pritzker-winning architect Zaha Hadid designed the striking set; all white, it variously suggested an iceberg, a ski-run, a maelstrom, and the female body. The singers impressively mastered its steep contours, while its capacity to change shape — as if in response to the shifting desires of the characters — made it seem quite human. Its bare white spaces, lit dramatically by Adam Silverman, provided the perfect setting for Alden's eclectic direction, in which the action unfolded part through enactment, part through narration and a considerable part through ritual and symbol. Focus was primarily upon the enormous pain the two male lovers caused themselves, while the two women maintained emotional stability — just.

It has been said that Così contains Mozart's most beautiful music, something I was unable to appreciate until this performance. Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel elicited a Beethovenian sonority from his players, while sustaining crisp and precise tempos and scrupulously close attention to the dynamics of each melody. A carefully wrought continuo accompaniment (with cellist David Heiss) ensured that the extended passages of recitative were always dramatically interesting.  Dudamel also sang — just one line — to the great delight of the audience: he has a serviceable light tenor.

Throughout the cycle, the Philharmonic's casting has favored relatively new or up-and-coming singers, with varied results. But for Così the cast was solid gold. The old hand among them was Rod Gilfry, whose outré Don Alfonso ran the gamut from demonic humor to existential confusion; for all his bonhomie, this Alfonso's plotting seemed more rooted in nihilistic despair than in mere cynicism. As it was resentment at their privilege that drove Rosemary Joshua's forcefully lively Despina to trick the women she served, she had few interests in common with Alfonso; the two characters moved in different spheres. 

In Hussain Chalayan's intriguing costumes, Miah Persson's Fiordiligi and Roxana Constantinescu's Dorabella looked for all the world like undergraduates newly arrived on campus. They were a breath of fresh air. Neither singer commands massive reserves of volume, but their voices exuded freedom and joy.  Persson, a veteran of Così at the Met and the Salzburg Festival, managed the great leaps in "Come scoglio" and "Per pietà" with impressive ease, and her lower range was full of warmth. Constantinescu, who made the most of Dorabella's role as the sexual adventurer, ensured that even in the most passionate moments her wit kept suitors precisely where she wanted them to be.

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Rod Gilfry and Rosemary Joshua as Don Alfonso and Despina
Craig T. Mathew and Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging

Alex Shrader was an ardent but sad Ferrando; his characteristically refined elegance expressed vulnerability, though "Un' aura amorosa" sounded glorious. Philippe Sly, a Canadian bass-baritone who is only in his mid-twenties, played Guglielmo with vocal tone of extraordinary beauty and a wickedly ironic stage presence. We will surely be seeing much more of him; he made his San Francisco Opera debut in the same role just last season, when he was still an Adler Fellow. 

Toward the end, the edge of the performance was blunted. Dudamel's orchestra stayed consistently lively, but physically and vocally some of the singers flagged. The great duet in which Ferrando seduces Fiordiligi, the high point of the score, was staged in a relatively obscure, downstage position, and lost all dramatic impact. Then, at the end, Alden made no effort to stage the marriage and the return of the lovers, which made for an unsatisfactory conclusion as it seemed artistically inadequate. One can only wonder why he wished to finish this otherwise magnificent production in such an offhand way. spacer 


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