“Così fan tutte” at Cen­tral City Opera House is glo­ri­ously funny and ro­man­tic

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Kelly Dean Hansen Jeremy Pa­passo, Daily Cam­era

Within a few min­utes of the cur­tain ris­ing on the new pro­duc­tion of Mozart’s “Così fan tutte” at the Cen­tral City Opera House Satur­day night, it was read­ily ap­par­ent that this is an ideal opera for the diminu­tive the­ater. It’s hard to be­lieve it hasn’t been staged there since 1990. There are only six main char­ac­ters, the drama is mostly do­mes­tic and never ranges wide, and a feel­ing of in­ti­macy is at its core.

The last and most enig­matic of the three Ital­ian op­eras Mozart set to li­bret­tos by Lorenzo Da Ponte, “Così” is at times up­roar­i­ously funny, and while be­trayal and de­cep­tion are never far from view, the opera has some of the most ef­fu­sively ro­man­tic mo­ments Mozart ever wrote.

Di­rec­tor Stephen Barlow has set the opera — whose subtitle is “The School for Lovers” — in a uni­ver­sity en­vi­ron­ment, and the re­sults are spec­tac­u­lar. The agent who drives the ro­man­tic in­trigues, an older gen­tle­man named Don Al­fonso, be­comes a pro­fes­sor, and it works bril­liantly. The role is taken by bass-bari­tone Pa­trick Carfizzi, who rel­ishes in Al­fonso’s chi­canery through­out the pro­ceed­ings. Carfizzi’s com­mand of the comic bass style is unas­sail­able.

Two young stu­dent cou­ples are at the cen­ter of the ro­man­tic in­trigue — a test of the two women’s fidelity in the face of a dis­guise­and-switch plot de­vised by Al­fonso, who has made a bet with the two men about the ladies’ con­stancy.

Of these four roles, Mozart wrote the so­prano part of Fiordiligi as the most prom­i­nent and vir­tu­osic. He gave her two of his great­est bravura arias. Hai­ley Clark, mak­ing her CCO de­but, im­me­di­ately drew in the crowd with her strik­ing stage pres­ence and her as­ton­ish­ing vo­cal con­trol. Clark’s per­for­mance is a mas­ter­class in how to fully in­habit and de­velop a char­ac­ter — all while daz­zling with an in­ef­fa­bly beau­ti­ful voice. Both arias drew sus­tained ap­plause.

Her sis­ter Dora­bella is played with joy­ous aban­don by mezzo-so­prano Ta­mara Gura. Her Act I aria “Smanie im­pli­ca­bili” was such a glo­ri­ous dis­play of in­flated, histri­onic “suf­fer­ing” that the tragedy of Gura be­ing robbed of her sec­ond aria near the end of Act II was quite real. More on that in a bit.

Tenor Matthew Plenk is sen­si­tive and ar­dent as Fer­rando, Dora­bella’s orig­i­nal suitor who man­ages, with great ef­fort, to win the heart of the more stead­fast Fiordiligi in dis­guise. His Act I aria “Un’aura amorosa” was in­tensely beau­ti­ful. Bari­tone David Adam Moore was strong and con­fi­dent as Guglielmo, Fiordiligi’s orig­i­nal lover. His se­duc­tion of Dora­bella is eas­ier, but full of light­hearted com­edy. Guglielmo’s mu­sic isn’t show­stop­ping like Fiordiligi’s or Fer­rando’s, but Moore made the most of his two comic arias.

Fi­nally, mezzo-so­prano and CU alumna Me­gan Marino was ab­so­lutely ra­di­ant in her CCO de­but as the girls’ con­niv­ing maid De­spina (in this set­ting, she seems more like a dorm mother than a maid). De­spina’s in­trigues with Al­fonso and her amuse­ment at the lovers’ antics are among the most de­li­cious as­pects of the ac­tion, and Marino im­bues them all with a sense of de­light that is partly sar­cas­tic, partly sym­pa­thetic. Her early Act II aria is en­chant­ing, and the scenes where De­spina dis­guises her­self as a “magnetic” doc­tor and later as a no­tary are uproarious.

Con­duc­tor and CCO mu­sic di­rec­tor John Baril leads a robust orches­tra in the pit and al­ways ac­com­pa­nies the singers in a way that puts them in their best light. The pi­ano ac­com­pa­ni­ment to the recita­tives works well. The cho­rus is not used much in “Così,” but when it is on­stage, it is ebul­lient. The sets are all sim­ple, but aes­thet­i­cally vi­brant.

Sadly, but pre­dictably, the three num­bers that have been most fre­quently tar­geted for cuts in the opera’s check­ered per­for­mance his­tory are all omit­ted. For the first two, the ar­gu­ments for their omis­sion are sound. One is a small duet that is su­per­flu­ous in the con­text, and the other is a third and very dif­fi­cult aria for Fer­rando that Mozart him­self cut at the first per­for­mance.

But cut­ting Dora­bella’s late sec­ond aria was a gross mis­cal­cu­la­tion. The char­ac­ter needs this fun, light­hearted piece at this stage of the opera, and it pro­vides an ex­cel­lent setup for Al­fonso’s moral.

Me­gan Marino plays De­spina in “Così fan tutte” at the Cen­tral City Opera House.

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