When I heard that the Met was going to do a new production of Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte set in Coney Island during the 1950s I was relieved that they were not going to place the last of the Da Ponte operas in a Turkish brothel. Then I wondered why the Met needed a new production of Così; the old one was telecast less than four years ago as part of the HD series and appeared in fine condition.
As a kid, I often went to Coney Island which was just a few stops south on the Brighton Line. It wasn’t much like Director Phelim McDermott depicts it, but he’s a Brit and this is opera. Actually, his version of the place was more interesting than the real thing. He assembled a corp of performers listed as the Skills Ensemble which included a contortionist, two sword swallowers, a strong man, and a fire eater among its 12 members. They helped make, along with a series of rotating doors, the first act look like a reprise of Hellzapoppin. While still effective in the second act all this business distracted from the seriousness of this comedy’s denouement.
Così, the least popular of the three Da Ponte opera and in my almost worthless opinion the best, has long been a ‘problem’ opera. What is it really saying about women, relationships, fidelity, and human nature in general? Its greatness lies in its ambiguity. It can be played for comedy, as it mostly was in this performance. But relying solely on comedy misses the poignance and uncertainty of this most complex and profound of comedies. Only Verdi’s Falstaff reaches Così’s profundity. When Da Ponte’s brilliant libretto is combined with Mozart’s gorgeous and insightful score the result is one of opera’s ultimate masterpieces.
McDermott’s show was great fun, the more so for the excellence of its cast. But it ignored the difficult questions posed by this very ingenious opera. Still if you missed it today, I would definitely advise catching the repeat. How can you not like a show that features Leo the Human Gumby.
The two female leads, Fiordiligi and Dorabella were dressed in 50s regalia, including black and white saddle shoes. Their ambidextrous lovers were contemporary naval officers – both lieutenant commanders. Instead of returning as Albanians they were epigones of James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.
Fiordiligi is the opera’s most demanding role. Its two arias, especially ‘Come scoglio’ are a test for any soprano. Amanda Majeski met these challenges, except for a few strained high notes. Her lyric soprano is perhaps a shade too light for the role. Fiordiligi is also the most conflicted character in the story. Majeski realized this aspect of her role with grace.
Dorabellas is an easier type – willing to go with the current. Serena Malfi was attractive and effective as the more pliable sister.
The two leading men, Ferrando and Guglielmo, are types. Young males, though their ranks in this production are too high for their implied ages (no more than 25), who are full of both bluster and näivete. Ben Bliss has a pleasant light tenor well suited for Mozart. He sang ‘Un’aura amorosa’ with feeling though a little more richness of tone would have helped. This is a role that Richard Tucker sang (in English) 26 times at the Met.
Adam Plachetka has a well honed light baritone that easily met all the demands of his undemanding part. His portrayal of Guglielmo was in keeping with the Brooklyn setting of the opera.
Don Alfonso, Christopher Maltman, is the guy who turns the plot wheels. Maltman has a sound similar to Plachetka’s. The biggest role he has sung with the company is Rossini’s Figaro. A little more cunning and suavity could have helped his projection of the story’s prime mover, but when you have to wear a sequined jacket suavity is hard to do.
Broadway’s Kelli O’Hara was doubtless recruited to add some pizzazz to the show. Surprisingly her singing was better than her horseplay; she did get to dress up as a notary with a mustache and as a Texas cowboy. In a part that was a specialty of Roberta Peters, she held up her vocal line with assurance.
Conductor David Robertson has likely the world’s longest commute. He conducts both the Saint Louis and Sydney Symphony Orchestras. His conducting this afternoon was all Mozart could ask for. The great Act 1 finale was rousing and brilliant. Again, this was one of the HD series’ best performances. Worth even a second viewing.
COSÌ FAN TUTTE
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart–Lorenzo Da Ponte
Don Alfonso………….Christopher Maltman
Skills Ensemble: Betty Bloomerz, Nicholas DeCegli, Sarah Folkins,
Leo the Human Gumby, Jonathan Nosan, Titano Oddfellow,,
Cristina Pitter, Sage Sovereign, Ray Valenz, Anna Venizelos,
Josh Walker, Zoe Ziegfeld
Harpsichord Continuo….Natalia Katyukova
Set Designer…………Tom Pye
Costume Designer……..Laura Hopkins
Lighting Designer…….Paule Constable