Though it’s obviously suggesting a cart before the horse, this reviewer could not help – even in the first notes of the Cosi fan tutte overture— to think of the fun-loving mischievous Mozart many of us came to know best through the film Amadeus. The melodies don’t just fill up the opera house, they do so prancing. It is the epitome of signature light-hearted excellencefrom Mozart that the film imagines drove Antonio Salieri to distraction. And from the gitgo, it’s also a frolic melody that evokes the vision of Wolfgang’s rolls above, under and around the couch with the lady he so clearly enjoyed, similarly driving his scold of a father to rage.
That Mozart DID like the ladies—and the program notes also suggesting librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte did too—has quite a bit of relevance to Cosi fan tutte (translated as Thus do all women and subtitled The School for Lovers). Here, a somewhat cynical man about town, Don Alfonso (Alessandro Corbelli) is trying to spare his young idealistic friends Ferrando (Andrew Stenson) and Guglielmo (Joshua Hopkins) from their naïve belief that their respected betrotheds Dorabella (Marianne Crebassa) and Fiordiligi (Ana María Martínez) are as pure and constant as can be. You imagine that even in the top balcony they can feel, if not see, Don Alfonso rolling his eyes at his two friends’ puppy love. He wagers them that he can prove that these women- as all women – are inconstant and just human.
The story unfolds to let Don Alfonso make his point, with the kind of disguised identities and plot twists you expect in many a Shakespeare comedy. And, much as you can find no shortage of misogynistic lines in Shakespeare’s works, you would do well to also remember that one of Shakespeare’s best-known odes to his beloved even includes a fondness for her bad breath. Fickle though Dorabella and Fiordiligi are proven to be, Don Alfonso, with the aid of the maid and woman of the world Despina (Elena Tsallagova), makes the greater point that it behooves all to accept humans as humans.
Lyric Opera accentuates the farce
In this production especially, it’s not only Shakespeare that is evoked but rather the romp of a Molière farce. This is funny stuff! Some program notes cite critics claiming that Da Ponte’s libretto seems out of sync with Mozart’s melodies. This reviewer thinks it better to note that there are few other operas that seem to reliably summon the audience to so many guffaws and belly laughs, largely thanks to the many bon mots set to melody. At times, you end up not knowing quite whether you are more delighted by the mellifluous voices of tenor Stenson and baritone Hopkins, or their ability to look like cartoon character cut-outs striking comical he-man poses and such.
This production (Original Director: John Cox; Revival Director: Bruno Ravella) is set in a pre-World War I Monte Carlo like seaside resort. The set oozes light and carefree, tickling most when it adds simple touches like pastel balloons moving like dancers to lighten up a moment (Set and Costume Design: Robert Perdziola).
Of course Cosi fan tutte is most about the music—solos, duets, and more— and especially the ensemble sync with the orchestra under the baton of James Gaffigan. Your ears will thrill not only to hear the soprano and mezzo-soprano coloratura but also to hear the flutes trill in an accompanying duet. From this writer’s perspective soprano Ana María Martínez doesn’t bring the same comic timing chops to bear as her fellow female leads, but more than makes up for it when she shines in her many solo arias. Crebassa’s mezzo voice and person sparkle so much you feel that there is an intense spotlight on her at all times. Better, when these two female voices meld in a duet you are more than ready to forget the story line so as to better savor the aural splendor. This is singing and song that would enthrall in a concert hall without benefit of story, costumes, etc.—and so much of it often does.
Some tips and cautions are in order. At times this 3 ½ hour opera experience feels especially long because there is only one intermission after a 90-minute first act. Larks might especially seek out a March matinee. And, for those who are thrown by such, do know ahead of time that especially in the beginning, there is lots of recitative set-ups accompanied by harpsichord. The main tip is to join in on the superlative pre-performance lecture. Unlike others that seem to do little more than recite the plot synopsis you can read in the program book, this lecturer gives a compact précis peppered with commentary from the performers on how they interpret their role and the story, as well as sampling musical highlights one should listen for.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Six performances through March 16.
Lyric Opera House
20 North Wacker
For tickets visit the Lyric Opera website or call 312-827-5600.
All photos by Cory Weaver and Andrew Cioffi
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago
About the Author: Amy Munice
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