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Capital Opera’s production of Cosi fan tutte, perhaps the greatest operatic collaboration of librettist Lorenzo da Ponte and composer W. A. Mozart, evoked gales of laughter and frequent appreciative applause from a large Meredith College audience; one that appreciated the sophisticated comedy resulting in the attempt of two young men to find out whether or not the women they love can be faithful. This tale of love, seduction and betrayal is made even more unforgettable by some of Mozart’s greatest ensembles and arias, which displayed the best efforts of the singers of Capital Opera as they concluded their fifth year of fine performances.
Cosi fan tutte is an ensemble opera evolving around six characters and allows for no weaknesses in the performers who bring them to life. Their singing throughout must be flawless; their comedic skills must be unflagging. For the most part, all cast members managed to meet the musical and comedic demands, but on those occasions when musical problems arose, it was difficult not to notice them.
The roles of the three women are filled with lovely music, and many chances to reveal their acting skills. Soprano Amberly Foulkrod as Fiordiligi has a dramatic, flexible voice which encounters no difficulties in singing arias with high tessituras and extremely wide intervals. Her legato singing is especially beautiful and her many sustained high notes are thrilling. Although all her arias drew richly-deserved applause from the audience, her second-act aria “Per pieta, ben mio, perdona” (“For pity’s sake, my dearest, forgive”) is to me the most technically satisfying performance in the opera, revealing all the lyric beauty of her voice and her ability to convey her character’s deep emotion. Shana Hammett as Dorabella also has a lovely voice with great agility and range which are admirable vehicles for the portrayal of the flighty Dorabella. All of her singing is a delight, especially her “Smanie implacibili che m’agitate” (“Implacable pains which torment me”) in Act I, with its brilliance and the display of considerable technical skill. Despina, the third woman in this trio, is sung by soprano Elizabeth Doebler, who has not only a magnificent voice but also a comic skill surpassing that of anyone in the cast. Her technical skills are excellent and her vocal quality is warm and very satisfying, and she very nearly steals the show from Foulkrod and Hammett. Her stage presence commands the attention of everyone in the audience. It is difficult to point out one aria or scene where she shines the brightest, but certainly the scenes in which she disguises herself as a doctor and as a notary are notable for her comic skill and her ability to alter her voice to support the character she is pretending to be. I have not yet decided whether or not she overdoes her vocal alteration in these scenes.
The roles of the three male characters also require excellent singing and considerable comedic skills. Steven Jepson (Don Antonio), Ted Federle (Guglielmo) and Jonathan Blalock (Ferrando) are all fine singers and accomplished actors, and turned in fairly solid performances. Jepson as the Don is particularly strong. His big baritone voice can be heard at the back of the hall and he is well suited to his role as the schemer whose manipulations of all the other characters demonstrate what he says all along: that women are naturally unfaithful. His best singing and acting occur in the scenes with Ferrando and Guglielmo, who are putty in his hands. Tenor Jonathan Blalock has the tools of the great Mozartian tenors — his voice is warm and clear and his high notes are ringing and perfectly placed, as he reveals in his second-act aria “Ah! Lo veggio: qu’elle anima bella /Al mio pianto resister non sa” (“Ah! I see it: this lovely creature cannot resist my pleading”). Baritone Ted Federle as Guglielmo sings well, and his comic abilities are the strongest of any of the male characters.
In addition to the singers, the directors also deserve commendations. Scott Tilley, the very able music director, prepared carefully the fine small orchestra that played admirably and provided excellent support for all the singers. He struggled to get all the singers on stage to work together but was not always successful. Chorus master Lisa Fredenburgh prepared her chorus well but its members had trouble being heard when they sang offstage. Wayne Wyman, stage director, made effective use of 1920’s costumes to dress his singers, encouraged them to dance a vigorous Charleston in the finale, and introduced excellent movement and stage business among the characters. Some of this was just exaggerated enough to underscore the meanings of the recitatives
Despite all the positive aspects of this performance, however, I must note that the singers’ level of musicianship and diction are somewhat disappointing. The preponderance of music in this opera consists of ensembles, which to be successful must be sung together, harmonically and rhythmically as the composer wrote it. Such was not the case in many places. Often one or two voices in an ensemble would speed ahead of the orchestra or lag behind it despite the clear indications of their excellent conductor; at other times a singer would enter later than he/she should have; at still other times an ensemble would neither begin nor end where its members should. Another problem concerns the company’s Italian diction, specifically the annoying habit of placing strong accents on unaccented syllables, especially at ends of phrases. Even the least musically educated member of an audience will recognize these problems. Professional opera companies know this and everyone works to prevent any type of musical errors from weakening the quality of their performances.