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