OVERNIGHT REVIEW: LA Opera opens sparkling production of Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte”

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

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Los Angeles Opera

Mozart: Cos Fan Tutte

Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011 Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Next performances: Sept. 22, 24 and Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. Oct.
2 and 8 at 2 p.m.

Information: www.laopera.com

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Last February when Los Angeles Opera mounted a sparkling
production of Rossini’s The Turk in
Italy,
who knew that it would be the beginning of an “opera buffa”
revolution at the nation’s fourth-largest opera company? Judging from the top-notch
presentation of Mozart’s Cos Fan Tutte, which
opened yesterday afternoon at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, LAO may have found
its true calling as it begins its second quarter-century of operation.

 

Presenting top-quality “opera buffa” (“comic opera”) isn’t as
easy as it might appear. Great “opera buffa” requires wit, style and a total
commitment by everyone in the company to make this genre work. Among other
things, the entire cast must be strong and blend together expertly; even one
miscast role can doom a production. In addition, the orchestra and conductor
must be able — and willing — to master this unique musical style, sometimes (as
was the case yesterday) a day after playing a totally different kind of music (in
this case, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, which
opened its local run Saturday night).

 

Fortunately, James Conlon (beginning his sixth season as
LAO’s music director) has built the LAO Orchestra into a first-rate ensemble
and they set the bar very high yesterday. Conlon’s pacing was graceful when the
score called for that (often) and full of brio when those moments occurred. The
orchestra, which numbered just 46, was in top form throughout the afternoon, a
noteworthy feat particularly when you realize that Cos began less than 16 hours after Eugene Onegin ended Saturday night.

 

Cos is the last
in a trilogy of operas that Mozart wrote in collaboration with librettist
Lorenzo da Ponte. It’s the least performed of the three (the others are The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni). Unlike the first two,
which focus on the foibles of men, Cos offers
its take on the behavior of women (although the men don’t exactly emerge in
glory, either).

 

With LAO continuing in its cost-containment mode, the
company imported this production, created in 2006 by Nicholas Hytner, from England’s
Glyndenbourne Festival Opera; that same company also was the source of last
year’s The Turn of the Screw by
Benjamin Britten. One advantage of using borrowed productions is that other
companies get to produce the occasional flops, while we get to pick and choose
the successes. This was one of the latter.

 

Like the Britten opera, this Cos used a clean, yet elegant, unit set that used sliding walls to
shift the action between inside rooms, terraces and gardens located (in this
case) presumably in Naples. Ashley Dean, making his U.S. debut, directed
deftly, aided by two more U.S. first-timers, Vicki Mortimer (costumes) and Andrew
May (lighting).

 

The sextet of singers — four of them making their company
debuts — looked appropriately young, sang beautifully, and acted their roles in
this “battle of the sexes” story with saucy panache. Polish-born soprano
Aleksandra Kurzak handled the wide range of Fiordigi with seeming ease and
brought real pathos to her moving arias in both acts. Romanian mezzo Ruxandra
Donose was a somewhat lower-key Dorabella. Albanian tenor Saimir Pirugu sang
with gleaming, sweet tones, while Italian bass-baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo
portayed Gugliemo with appropriate amounts of power. Another Italian, Lorenzo
Regazzo, was effective as the scheming Don Alfonso and Roxana Constantinescu
nearly stole the show with her wicked portrayal of the maid, Despina.

 

LAO last presented Cos
a dozen years ago. One hopes it won’t be another 12 before it returns. In the
meantime, grab a ticket for one of the remaining five presentations and prepare
to be thoroughly delighted.

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Hemidemisemiquavers:

As usual, James Conlon (with his ever-present iPod)
delivers an erudite preconcert lecture an hour before each performance. Among
other things, Conlon pointed out that the opera’s title is Cosi fan tutte with an e at the end of the last word
because tutte is feminine gender in
Italian (tutti with an I would
have denoted men or everyone). Conlon’s lecture was particularly helpful for
those who never seen Cos before,
with lots of good information, a deft plot synopsis, and an intriguing question
at the end.

There are several articles worth reading ahead of time on
the LAO Web site HERE (they’re also in the printed program).

The production runs abut 3:35 with one 25-minute
intermission.

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(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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