Così Fan Tutte, LA Opera

Written by:
John Sullivan
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‘Così Fan Tutte’

Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte
Conducted by James Conlon
Directed by Ashley Dean
With Saimir Pirgu, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Lorenzo Regazzo, Aleksandra Kurzak, Ruxandra Donose, Roxana Constantinescu
Los Angeles Opera, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Through Oct. 8, 2011

There may be no substitution for youth, especially on stage. A cast that is better known in America might have filled more seats in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, but it is hard to believe that they would be superior, or even as good, as the youthful ensemble currently singing (and acting and cavorting) energetically in this production of “Così Fan Tutte.” “Così” is a celebration of the passion, lust, and rashness of youth, so celebrate they do. This is opera buffa of the highest order, expressive Mozart at his musical and comedic best. The last of a trilogy of Mozart operas about the battle of the sexes, “Così” follows “Marriage of Figaro,” then “Don Giovanni.” The first two opined that all men are the same; “Così Fan Tutte” translates as a twist on the theme: all women are the same.

Briefly, Fernando (Saimir Pirgu) and Guglielmo (Ildebrando D’Arcangelo) are two young soldiers. An older friend, Don Alfonso (Lorenzo Regazzo), bets them that their fiancées, Dorabella (Ruxandra Donose) and Fiordiligi (Aleksandra Kurzak), would cheat on them if they were absent. So certain are the young men of their girls’ (they are only 15) fidelity that they take up the bet and Don Alfonso cooks up a plot to prove his case. They are to feign that they have been called to battle in Naples and must leave immediately. Then they are to return disguised as Albanian officers. (This is not too hard in opera: let down the hair, paste on a moustache, and change your clothes. Poof, you are an Albanian.) Each is to woo the other’s fiancée. Don Alfonso will coach them along the way.

The deal is that the men must follow his directions for one day. Realizing that he might need an accomplice, Don Alfonso enlists the young women’s spicy maid, Despina (Roxana Constantinescu) with a little money. It is not a hard bribe to sell; Despina has already been trying to convince them that they should exploit their youthful feminine charms and play the field, a shocking suggestion to the damsels. The women put up serious resistance to the supposed Albanians and the young men are smug that they have won the bet.

Not so fast. Don Alfonso reminds them that the deal is they are to continue to obey his orders for the rest of the day. The simple terrace is transformed into an orangery festooned with flowers. They feign suicide to try to engage the women’s sympathies by drinking what is supposed to be arsenic. Instead the women just panic, Despina, disguised as a doctor, miraculously revives the men using Dr. Mesmer’s cure, she instructs them they must press the recovering men to their breasts. This does break the ice a bit, but only a bit. Ultimately Guglielmo seduces Dorabella, the less serious of the two, when Fiordiligi and Ferrando take a stroll in the garden. Fiordiligi is in anguish, realizing she is attracted to Guglielmo. Meanwhile, Guglielmo, enraged, learns of his friend’s betrayal and, for revenge, turns up the heat in his pursuit of Fiordiligi, finally melting her reserve. It is only in the midst of a wedding ceremony to the new beaux (with Despina whipping out another handy disguise as a notary) that Don Alfonso arranges to have the subterfuge revealed. The deception over, the four are instantly older but wiser and are faced with their own mixed emotions regarding the betrayals. Don Alfonso advises all to forgive and forget, but it is not clear as the curtain drops on this interpretation of the opera who will end up with whom.

Silly? Yes, but silly becomes charming in director Ashley Dean’s able hand. This production, originated by Nicholas Hytner for the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, is a gem. Dean, who worked with Hytner on “Così” at Glyndebourne, has beautifully adapted the spare and elegant scenery to the Chandler stage. The casting is faultless and the ever-wonderful Los Angeles Opera Orchestra is perfect with the sparkling ensemble. The voices are well paired and the orchestra, under James Conlon’s able baton, rises to be another member of the ensemble.

Tenors may be the typical romantic lead, but inherently sexy D’Arcangelo’s commanding bass baritone would woo me any time. His swagger has the right tone of buffoonery. He is a quintessential Mozart bass baritone, as can be seen in his extensive repertoire. Soprano Aleksandra Kurzak dazzles with her wide vocal range. Each performer is outstanding in his or her own right. It is rare to see such vocal balance and acting skill on an opera stage at one time.

Stravinsky once said, “Too many pieces of music finish too long after the end.” Much as I loved this production of “Così,” Mozart might have benefited from Stravinsky’s advice. For three hours and 30 minutes, these six artists sustained almost unfaltering voice and energy. Despite the length, it is like a breath of fresh air and the best “Così” I have seen.

Karen Weinstein

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