From the lights going down and conductor Arthur Fagen's assured downbeat, action is in the foreground in Michael Schell's staging of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte at IU Opera Theater. The comedy is a school for lovers. Even as the overture plays there are hijinks in C. David Higgins generous set as the two naive young men playfully dual around the stage.
The education for the young men and their ladies is conducted by the worldly wise, Don Alfonso. Saturday night's Don was the masterfully assured Johan Schram Reed. He sang with thoughtful command and in the staging was effective as a frequent quiet viewer of the developing scenes.
His pupils were tenor Paul Han as Ferrando and baritone Brayton Arvin as Guglielmo. Soprano Kellie Motter as the maid Despina was the Don's very creative assistant. The lady loves that the young men put such faith in were soprano Mathilda Edge as Fiordiligi and mezzo soprano Courtney Jameson as Dorabella.
In Cosi fan tutti's a well-worn plot Don Alfonso contrives to test the vows of his pupils by having them leave their loves on the pretext of military service and then return in disguise to each woo the others lady. The opera is particularly fun as the Don coaches the young men and Despina works with the women. She teaches Dorabella to master the "snap" from the film Legally Blond, but is able only to get Fiordiligi to do the old "drop the handkerchief "routine. In addition, Despina appears as the comical Dr. Mesmer and a wily notary.
The opera is rich in solo pieces and quite wonderful in duets, trios, quartets and even quintets. In the hands of Saturday night's cast the singing was assured and charming. Support from the pit was always evident and it was a pleasure to see the orchestra partially raised for the production.
In some productions, Cosi fan tutte can be a misogynist's vision of female infidelity with the men ruefully saddened by the experience. In the IU production it seemed a much more even handed story with sobering education for both sexes but with a quite light hearted conclusion.
Final performances of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte are this Friday and Saturday, February 12th and 13th at 7:30 in the IU Musical Arts Center.
At the theatre for you, I'm George Walker