The staging is static, but Dallas Opera’s ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ is lovely to listen to
WHAT’S OPERA, DOC?
COSI FAN TUTTE at the
Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. Feb. 20 and 26 at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 28 at 2 p.m.
The Dallas Opera may be getting the hang of the Winspear.
Its inaugural show in the space last October, Otello, featured a massive, ugly set and a dour story that failed to convey the glamour and excitement attendant on the opening of a new hall. But the current production, Mozart’s lyrical Cosi Fan Tutte, is just the opposite: Airy subject matter, lilting voices, a giddy sense of love just in time for Valentine’s Day. Even the sets and costumes were as bright as a mountain sunrise.
Although sometimes, that was not enough.
Cosi is romantic fluff of the most diabetic-inducing kind. Ferrando (Brian Anderson) and Guglielmo (Michael Todd Simpson) are smitten with their paramours, Dorabella (Jennifer Holloway) and Fiordiligi (Elza van den Heever). But a wily old cynic, Don Alfonso (Thomas Allen) — convinced of the superficiality of all women — seeks to prove how fickle love is and persuades the men to pretend to go off to war, disguise themselves and try to break the fidelity of their women. He enlists a saucy chambermaid (Nuccia Focile) to assist him in the plot.
Mozart composes extravagantly gorgeous arias and complex, close harmonies for the small cast, and all the principals (though especially Simpson, van den Heever and Focile) sing it beautifully; the rondo at the end of Act 1 thrills.
But there’s also a lot of exaggerated physical comedy potential that the stage director, John Cox, leaves under-explored. This is old-school, stand-and-sing staging that seems more concert than full opera. Where’s the visual dynamism, the frolicsome fun? (The turn-of-the-century seaside set, on loan from the San Francisco Opera, is a bit vague; when the characters disembark from one of the boats, they look silly.)
The actors do what they can with, again, Focile leading the way with some outrageous stage business; Allen also has a ball as the blustery old lion. But there’s a "what if?" quality that permeates the production: With such terrific music delivered so exquisitely, you can’t help but wonder how much better it would be not only to hear, but to see.
‘Don Pasquale’ opens Friday
One of the perks of the new Winspear Opera House is a backstage large enough to accommodate two full productions at any one time, and the Dallas Opera is taking full advantage of that, launching the next production of the season, Don Pasquale, in repertory with Cosi Fan Tutte. Another opera buffa, Donizetti’s bel canto story of romance opens tonight and plays until March 7.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2010.