By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Los Angeles Opera
Mozart: Così 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.
Saimir Pirgu (Ferrando), Ruxandra Donose (Dorabella), Aleksandra Kurzak (Fiordiligi), Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (Guglielmo) star in Los Angeles Opera's production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. Photo by Robert Millard.
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 Così 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 Così began less than 16 hours after Eugene Onegin ended Saturday night.
Così 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, Così 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 Così 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 Così 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.
• 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 Così 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.
(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.