Mozart's comic Cosi fan tutte opens the IU Opera Theater's 2011-2012 season in a new production conducted by Arthur Fagen, with stage direction by Tomer Zvulun and design by C. David Higgins.
Lorenzo da Ponte's libretto tells the story of a couple of boastful and ardent young lovers who get a lesson in the hard knocks school of love from a witty older gentleman and his ally, a clever maid.
This is the third production that Tomer Zvulun and C. David Higgins have worked on together at IU, and the results are delightful. Higgins' richly detailed and evocative design uses large turntables on either side of the stage that rotate elements in and out. When that isn't enough, he raises and lowers things in the middle. The technology is always at the service of the production and allows for smooth changes with the briefest of breaks between scenes.
Higgins' costumes ranged from servant garb, through military uniforms on up to some wild Zouave-inspired outfits. Color cues are strong elements in the drama; you know who should and who shouldn't be with whom by whether they match or clash. I especially enjoyed how cute the expected doctor outfit was for the clever maid Despina, and how unexpected the big hats and serapes were for the lovers in a delightful mock mariachi band scene.
Tomer Zvulun's direction matches the design in cleverness and energetic variety. During the early part of the opera, the fellows work out in an antique gym, while the ladies chat during a manicure, and the maid energetically irons clothes. The activity is all neatly fitted to introduce the characters and yet serve the music as well. There are sections where there just isn't much to do, but the singers hold forth; even then, there is creative attention to detail, and elements that might visually enrich the scene.
Saturday night's cast featured Lorenzo Garcia and Mark Davies as the young men, with Alyssa Martin and Sharon Harms as their intendeds. Joseph Mace was the worldly, wise Don Alfonso, and Katherine Polit was the wily maid Despina. All did very well. Solos were good, but my own favorite parts were the beautifully blended ensemble parts. Mace was a graceful, dandified gentleman andmeasured by applausePolit was a clear audience favorite.
Arthur Fagen conducted a nicely paced performance with attention to orchestral and vocal details. He has the Chamber Orchestra up a bit higher in the pit than usual, which visually made them seem more involved in the production. The sound was excellent throughout.
When Lorenzo da Ponte shopped around the libretto for Cosi fan tutte, his first choice wasn't Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but that supposed villain of Amadeus, Antonio Salieri. Salieri actually set a couple of scenes before passing on the project. From reports on his music, we're lucky that he gave up, leaving Mozart to do the job.
The IU Opera Theater offers final performances of Cosi fan tutte this Friday and Saturday.
At the theatre for you, I'm George Walker.