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In Review > North America

Così fan Tutte

HOUSTON
Houston Grand Opera
10/31/14

A cast of six strong singers carried the HGO performance of Mozart's Così Fan Tutte in an otherwise undistinguished production, created by Göran Järvefelt and directed by Harry Silverstein, and featuring a traditional, if bare, eighteenth-century-style setting (seen Oct. 31).  At the heart of this comedy are the two sisters and their tested, wavering fidelity, and the performances given by sopranos Rachel Willis-Sørensen (Fiordiligi) and Melody Moore (Dorabella) featured the remarkable pairing of gorgeous and beautifully matched voices and convincingly distinguished stage personae. Willis-Sørensen's soprano excels in its warmth and depth, and the brighter richness of Moore's singing was its ideal counterpoint. Their sound also complemented their characters: Willis-Sørensen, playing the more steadfast of the sisters, presented a model of poise, dignity, and resolution, the highpoint of which was her outstanding "Come scoglio"; Moore, as the weaker mark, brilliantly mugged stalwart "me-too!" agreements with her sister, wild histrionics in her Act I "Smanie implacabili," and agonized vacillations in response to the disguised Guglielmo's overtures.

Baritone Jacques Imbrailo (Guglielmo) and tenor Norman Reinhardt (Ferrando) had their own share of good comic stage-acting, all the more impressive on Reinhardt's part because he, while playing Cassio in the HGO Otello, was a stand-in for Stephen Costello, who had to withdraw from Così because of illness. The quality of Reinhardt's tenor — not large, but energetic, impassioned, and fluid from low to high — was ideal for this opera of amorous persuasion; and Imbrailo's singing demonstrated a sweet, smooth resonance that added to the vocal bounty of this cast. Nuccia Focile, a pert and irreverent Despina, and Alessandro Corbelli, the clever puppeteer Don Alfonso, completed the cast, with Focile's bright, bell-like singing turned toward the slapstick of Despina's machinations and Corbelli's weighty bass-baritone well suited to Alfonso’s worldly-wise perspective.  Ensembles are a defining feature of opera buffa, and Mozart's genius for exploiting them sets him apart in this genre; so the crisp articulation and lucid vocal texture in this cast's ensembles marked a further achievement in the singers' outstanding performance.

Carl-Friedrich Oberle's stage design is intended to serve any of the Mozart–Da Ponte operas, and the lack of set changes throughout is meant to keep the action going in Mozart's kinetic masterpieces. All good, but in a big hall, the mostly empty set seemed cavernous and grim, to which the predominantly neutral colors added a dispiriting blandness. Even the inexplicably bald female extras lent a bizarre austerity to the look of this production. Against this backdrop, Silverstein's directing was uninspired: Da Ponte's libretto offers a wealth of possibilities for inventive (and hilarious) stage action, but the best of this performance came from the singers' acting and not from the blocking.

The HGO Orchestra led by Patrick Summers merits praise for nimble and precise playing that also captured the lively and humorous spirit of Mozart's music. In sum, the different ingredients in the HGO Così —singing, playing, production, directing — created a performance that captured the sound if not quite the look and action of a great comic opera. spacer 

GREGORY BARNETT

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