After a long Victorian suppression, Così fan tutte has returned to a comfortable place in the standard Mozart opera repertoire, and, while many may find the plot and its implications as offensive as the Victorians, the opera and its music are now fortunately available to us.
The outdoor experience of Brevard Music Center's Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium is one of a geriatric audience of polo shirts and flowing muumuus, interspersed here and there with the Center's summer population of highly creative musicians in equally creative dress. This is a far different sauce for the event than the evening dress and chandeliers of other opera houses, but it is equally successful. The mature audience brings a collective experience of many earlier Cosìs and thousands of earlier opera evenings, clothing the highly functional hall and its companion outdoors with a nice sense of understanding and decorum. The hall is rather large, but the sound is fine.
Conductor David Effron has a wonderful brisk style; he seems to thoroughly enjoy making music with young people and getting the best out of a young orchestra. This performance is no exception. The Brevard Music Center Orchestra, some 50 players strong, was totally out of sight in the Whittington-Pfohl pit, with only Effron's head of bushy luminescent curls showing. But the sound, if somewhat large, lush, and modern, was invariably musical and invariably charming. The keyboard continuo for the recitatives was very ably played by Daniela Candillari on an electronic harpsichord. Otherwise it was all modern instruments.
The six soloists of the BMC's Janiec Opera Company were all excellent. The decision to sing in English and to provide projected English words on the proscenium was an excellent idea. The words were taken down for the repeats, which this writer found a little frustrating, especially in the duets and quartets in which each person was singing a different set of lyrics. But by and large, the projected words served to enhance the excellent diction of all the soloists.
Alexandra Wiseman, soprano, sang Fiordiligi; Ann Sauder, mezzo, Dorabella; and Lisa Kotara, soprano, was Despina. Wiseman's voice did not sound particularly young because of her strong vibrato, which did not seem to be at all under her control. Otherwise her voice and acting were delightful. Ann Sauder had less vibrato and had more control of it, and she was excellent in her role. Lisa Kotara's bell-clear voice and excellent enunciation made her difficult lines as Despina completely transparent.
Kotara's Despina was perhaps not below-stairs enough; she projected a strong personal dignity. Disguised as the long-winded Notary, Kotara played her part to the comedic hilt, with a nasal voice and outrageous gasps for breath between each legal paragraph of the marriage contract. In her comic disguise as the Doctor, her acting was splendid, and the foolishness with the magnet was excellent. The magnet was one of the few sight gags in the performance. In this foolishness she was abetted handsomely by Andrew Hill, baritone, as Guglielmo, and Javier Bernardo, tenor, as Ferrando. Their suicidal poisonings and the onset of outrageously funny rigor mortis were milked for all they were worth. Max Wier, bass, as Don Alfonso, has lots of lines and lots of singing. He is the plotter and the schemer, and his murky mind is the source for the troubling philosophy that requires much effort to overlook, but his excellent singing excuses much of Mozart's and his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte's equally murky attitudes about women.
This is a fully costumed performance. And the costumes are lovely. The two "ladies" are richly and beautifully dressed, as are the two "soldiers" and Don Alfonso. Despina has a relatively demure maid's costume. Don Alfonso disguises the soldiers as Arabs, with voluminous robes. Swarthy Bernardo (Ferrando) ends up looking like Valentino; he seemed to be finding his robes far too hot for the balmy summer evening. Hill (Guglielmo – "the fair one") looked like nothing so much as an unwashed motorcycle hippie. He was having trouble with his Frank Zappa mustache in the dress rehearsal; one side of it kept coming unglued and hanging down in front of his mouth!
This Così is also a fully-scenery-ed performance, with lots of scenery and painted backdrops and a painted show curtain. The lighting was effective and dramatic, and the mechanical aspects of the play were fully attended to. This reviewer has just finished reading The Esterháza Opera House, Past and Future. While it's clear that the Brevard house is a long way from Praha or Fertöd, and the technical complications of performance are very different, nevertheless, it's obvious that live music is the best. One could listen to a CD of Così and find technical perfection, but one could not have nearly as much fun or enjoy the opera nearly as much as at this live performance at the Brevard Music Center. Well done, all!
Note: Così fan tutte will be performed again on June 24. See our calendar for details.