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In Review > North America

Così Fan Tutte

SALT LAKE CITY
Utah Opera
3/14/15

Mozart and da Ponte delighted in skewering political targets of their time, but in Così Fan Tutte (seen March 14), they turned their puckish sights on the relationships between men and women with a misogynic result. How do directors approach this material without alienating contemporary audiences? Usually by satirizing the satire — the broader the characterizations, the better. 

That seemed to be the approach of director Crystal Manich for Utah Opera’s production, who set the comedy in 1920s Naples and turned the libretto on its ear with comic gestures and sight gags. At first, this seemed to blunt the plot’s dubious premise of a wager, between Ferrando and Guglielmo and their “experienced” friend Don Alfonso, that their girlfriends would be incapable of fidelity if left alone.

Unfortunately, Manich’s subtle humor quickly deteriorated into a parody of a dated Saturday Night Live sketch, featuring Ferrando and Guglielmo in disguise, as two “wild and crazy” Albanians, undulating their extremities ala Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin. Fortunately, this over-the-top approach was later reined-in. 

Manich also cleverly shaped the voyeuristic aspect of the opera as background characters were seen spreading news of the bet and seemed to be on-hand to relish each new development.  Their behavior, by extension, brought the audience into the secret.                

Set designer Riccardo Hernandez’s simple mise-en-scène was a boat dock with a raised, boardwalk. Translucent screens were flown-in to create a cafe and parlor. Chorus members acted as supers and stagehands, moving tables and chairs, when necessary, while awaiting their brief but well-executed musical contribution in the finale. Costumes by Susan Memmott-Allred were detailed, authentic and colorful with extraordinary millinery, but the final scenes strangely mixed formal and beach wear at a masked party on the boat dock. 

Conductor Will Crutchfield, making his debut with Utah Opera, had his hands full, pulling together opening-night loose ends. But his steady hand eventually instilled confidence for a mostly precise but energized performance. 

The attractive, young cast were dramatically apt and created cohesive tonal blend during the work’s many ensembles. As Fiordiligi, soprano Karin Wolverton displayed a pliant voice with a silvery top and mustered steely determination during “Per pietà, ben mio, perdona.” The aria ended with Wolverton in near fetal position on the stage floor. 

Mezzo Leah Wool was more pragmatic as Dorabella, singing “È amore un ladroncello” with warm, rich tone and engaging bel canto flourish, and David Adam Moore’s Guglielmo, whose early conquest of Dorabella gave him renewed swagger, pushed Ferrando’s buttons with relish. 

Tenor Aaron Blake brought a dynamic energy to Ferrando, buying into Manich’s dramatic vision. Blake’s voice was strong with ample range and tonal focus but lacked sufficient breath support for the legato lines of “Un’aura amorosa.” He fared better with the second act’s more declarative “Tradito, schernito.”

Bass-baritone Matthew Burns’s deliciously urbane manner as Don Alfonso blunted the plot’s less savory elements, and his musical talent was pure vocal panache. Mezzo-soprano Abigail Levis, as the maid Despina, delivered scene-stealing comedic talent and descriptive vocal flexibility that impressed throughout the evening. Her fearless performance was a highlight. spacer 

ROBERT COLEMAN

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