Così fan tutte
Or, The School for Lovers
The Canadian Opera Company’s production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte is easily an entertaining and engaging experience for seasoned opera lovers and newcomers alike.
“Così fan tutte o sia La scuola degli amanti” (Thus Do They All, or a School for Lovers) is opera as social satire. Così’s libretto was the final of three written by Lorenzo da Ponte for Mozart. It tells the story of a bet placed and a wager, more costly than mere money, that is ultimately lost. An old cynic, Don Alfonso, convinces young Ferrando and Guglielmo to test the loyalty of their fiancées, the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella. The men are naïve, the women are conned and by the end of the opera no one will ever be the same—the young lovers, male and female alike are shamed. Don Alfonso, having proved his point, nonchalantly instructs the couples to go on happily with their lives as if nothing of gravity occurred.
Director Atom Egoyan takes the subtitle “School for Lovers” quite literally, setting the entire production in an educational environment, with the chorus acting as school goers taking notes on the dynamics of the lovers. Egoyan’s rendition tends to focus on the lighter and more comedic sides of Così, but the looming Fridas, (part of the absolutely beautiful set), with their exposed hearts and solemn faces, always serves to remind us that there is a darker side to this tale that is never too far beneath the surface.
Conducting with his usual unbridled passion is Johanne Debus. In Mozart’s Così, we have both light hearted and heavier scores—each are handled with aplomb by this masterful genius and his orchestra.
In his COC debut, Sir Thomas Allen as Don Alfonso is no stranger to this role, let alone this opera (he has been involved with it in some way or another going back to his earliest forays into the operatic world in the 1960’s). Vocally, Allen’s role doesn’t call for anything too challenging, however, his onstage presence and demeanor and each note he sings commands respect nonetheless.
Alfonso’s scheming counterpart Despina, played with expert comic timing, sheer likability and pure fun is Canadian soprano Tracy Dahl. It’s hard not to smile when she is singing and performing on stage, she was a joy to behold throughout.
In Cosi’s ensemble cast the women were the clear standouts. Bass singer Robert Gleadow, who played the Old Gypsy in Il Trovatore, the Steersman in Tristan und Isolde and Publio in La clemenza di Tito last season at the COC, here plays a fun loving, comedic Guglielmo. Ferrando, played by American tenor Paul Appleby began a little wobbly, but seemed to come into his own after roughly an hour. Both men seemed to gain their vocal confidence, finding their voices later than their female counterparts. Older sister Fiordiligi, sung with a degree of excellence by COC newcomer, soprano Layla Claire, had a voice as beautiful as the butterflies that adorned the stage at times. Dorabella, younger sister, is here sung by mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta who also sang with a richness that can be described as decadent. The only fault I can point out, and it is not of their doing, is that the two are almost identical in height, matched in dress and with exactly the same long, straight hairstyle, so for someone not accustomed to the nuances between a mezzo-soprano and soprano, it might be difficult to tell the two apart.
By the end of Così fan tutte, you can see by the disillusioned looks on the young lovers’ faces, that things can never be the same, they cannot look at themselves, nor their partners in the same light again. The range of emotional depth that occurs from beginning to end, in particular, the way that the opera goes from light to dark and the presence of character by all on stage, makes this Canadian Opera Company production a must see.
On stage at The Four Seasons Centre until February 21. For tickets please visit: The Canadian Opera Company