Così fan Tutte
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In Review > North America

Così fan Tutte

PITTSBURGH
Pittsburgh Opera
11/8/15

THE VENERABLE SIR THOMAS ALLEN was the star of Pittsburgh Opera’s Così fan tutte (seen Nov. 8), taking on the dual assignments of stage director and the catalyst role of Don Alfonso. It was a thoroughly engaging production designed by John Conklin and owned by Boston Lyric Opera, which presented the work (with Allen leading a different cast) in 2013. Conklin has retained period costumes (by Gail Astrid Buckley) but set his Così on an abstract beachfront, where the singers walk barefoot in the sand, escaping to a raised outdoor porch or sparsely suggested indoor venue, with colorful framed squares suspended above to indicate cogent details.

On this background, Allen devised his own interpretation of Da Ponte’s ambiguous partner-swapping plot, so that Don Alfonso’s wager with the two young men is related to his own skewed relationship with Despina. The end has the two sisters rejecting their former fiancées, thereby emerging as the ultimate winners of the men’s dangerous game. At seventy-one, Allen is still in full control of his vocal resources, and he remains a compelling presence on stage.

The entire cast was quite good, especially when singing and acting as an ensemble. Conductor Antony Walker achieved precision in the score’s musical intricacies; though he sometimes let tempos lag, and sacrificed clarity of texture in favor of an all-over blend. A particularly telling moment was the trio, “Soave sia il vento,” where time seemed to stop and the music floated ethereally into the broad spaces of the Benedum Center auditorium.

Top vocal honors go to Danielle Pastin, whose Fiordiligi showed her to be a major Mozartean, who can toss off the technical hurdles of “Come scoglio” with deceptive ease, project the low-lying tessitura of “Per pietà” with melting emotional conviction, and blend exquisitely in duets with the neatly vocalized but blander Dorabella of Jennifer Holloway. Pastin’s creamy soprano is one of the most sheerly beautiful voices on the scene today, and she grows in artistry with every role and performance.

Sari Gruber, following a successful flirtation with Fiordiligi at Florida Grand Opera, returned to her accustomed role of Despina, this time a totally different character from the sassy pregnant maid she portrayed (while really pregnant) in Pittsburgh in 2006. The present Despina had matured into a daunting yet vulnerable foil for Don Alfonso, and she vocalized her two arias with feisty insouciance and comic flair.

Ferrando (Christopher Tiesi) and Guglielmo (Hadleigh Adams) were young, handsome and agile, if a little raw in the vocal department. Tiesi’s light tenor had a nice vibrance but lacked legato. “Un aura amorosa” was a bumpy ride, though the singer came into his own later with a solid “Tradito, schernito.” Adams’s penetrating baritone was more secure, his delineation of Guglielmo’s mixed feeling especially evident in the way he went from irony to anger in a splendid rendition of “Donne miei.”  —Robert Croan 

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