COSI FAN TUTTE (11-21-07)

By Lawrence Budmen

Florida Grand Operaís season opening production of Mozartís autumnal comedy Cosi Fan Tutte is an unmitigated delight. With a stylish production, exceptionally well balanced cast, and incisive musical direction, this frothy Mozartean souflee is one of FGOís best offerings in recent seasons.

The final collaboration between Mozart and Italian dramatist Lorenzo Da Ponte (who was also the librettist for The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni), Cosi Fan Tutte is a frothy farce set to lively, vivacious music. Too often this comic tale of lovers testing their spousesí fidelity is presented in a heavy handed, ponderous manner that robs the piece of its light hearted frivolity. This FGO production manages to balance the workís musico-theatrical elements in perfect proportion.

Presenting Mozartís intimately tailored operas in the vast spaces of the Carnival Centerís Ziff Opera House can be problematical; but director David Gately has created an inventive, witty production that moves along briskly, underscoring key dramatic moments while keeping the mood light and airy. Former Miamian Riccardo Hernandez (a Coral Gables High School alum) has designed a lovely, elegantly minimalist set, emphasizing clean lines and bright colors. Catherine Zuberís period costumes, originally designed for the Portland Opera, are enchanting. Gordon W. Olsonís lighting mirrors the high spirited fizz of Mozartís score.

Conductor Stewart Robertson is a fine Mozart stylist. His taut direction keeps the music bubbly and effervescent. Except for some brief horn fluffs in the second act, the Florida Classical Orchestraís light hearted, vigorous playing is delightful. Robertson effectively achieves the transparency of a period instrument ensemble, with precise, vibrato-less strings and brightly colored winds providing sparkling support for the excellent cast. Robertson also doubled as continuo player, supporting recitatives with lithe keyboard articulation.

Cosi fan Tutte demands a cast of six versatile singers with vocal glamour aplenty. FGO has fielded a wonderful group of singing actors that combine youth and experience, without a weak link. The role of Fiordiligi is one of the most difficult in the operatic canon, requiring a soprano with radiant high notes and a rich lower register. Ana Maria Martinez (who has essayed this role at Londonís Covent Garden and at the refined Mozartean aura of the Salzburg Festival) sang with voluminous beauty and fearless agility. Her difficult showpiece aria Come scoglio was brilliantly executed and, deservedly, brought down the house. 

Israeli mezzo Rinat Shaham brought finely burnished vocal expression and considerable theatricality to the role of Dorabella. The heavenly tenor aria Uní aura amorosa was one of the real highlights of the evening, sung exquisitely by Brian Anderson. Anderson was an outstanding Ferrando, a dulcet lyric tenor of artful refinement. 

Michael Todd Simpsonís voluminous baritone embodied Guglielmo. A vibrant stage figure, he exuded amorousness with the female protagonists. Daniel Mobbsí subtly pointed baritone painted the scheming Don Alfonso with a modicum of sympathy. As the maid Despina, Susanne Mentzer was delightful, vocally lively and incisive and a natural comic.

Mozartís glorious ensembles were beautifully balanced, the blend of voices and orchestra perfectly gauged. This excellent production of one of the operatic landmarks from the final year of Mozartís life proved a vivacious evening from first note to last.

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