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Zaniness updated

CBC Studio 42
05/12/2016 -  & May 13, 14*, 17, 18, 20, 21, 2016
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Così fan tutte as A Little too Cozy
Shantelle Przyblo (Felicity), Rihab Chaieb (Dora), Aaron Sheppard (Fernando), Clarence Frazer (Elmo), Cairan Ryan (Donald L. Fonzo), Caitlin Wood (Despina)
AtG Ensemble, Christopher Mokrzewski (conductor)
Joel Ivany (librettist, director), Andrew Martin-Smith (video producer), Snezana Pesic (set and costume designer), Jason Hand (lighting designer)

R. Chaieb (© Darryl Block)

Once again Joel Ivany has adapted a Mozart opera giving it a modern, urban setting. This time it is Così fan tutte rendered as A Little too Cozy. The premise centres on a television reality show: two couples who have never met have agreed to marry (there is a generous financial incentive). The show films the final trial they have endure as the two men, Fernando (engaged to Dora) and Elmo (engaged to Felicity), have to woo the other’s fiancée. The emcee of the program is the manipulative Donald L. Fonzo assisted by the devious “head of talent relations”, Despina.

Previously-made videos introduce us to the four contestants. The men are in finance and the women in media. They sport all the signifiers of the young urban professional.

Even when taking into account the highly contrived situations posed by “reality” television, the situation strains credulity. But such as been the charge against the Da Ponte-Mozart confection for the past 226 years. One object lesson of both is the fleeting, fragile nature of sincerity.

The work is being staged inside a real television studio, a cavernous space in Toronto’s Canadian Broadcasting Corporation building. All of Against the Grain Theatre Company’s productions are in venues that are lacking in some respect, and what is missing here is a supportive acoustic (no surprise in a space designed for electronic recording). However there are real cameras and monitors which get used in the action; for example, on stage we see Felicity succumb to Fernando’s ardour while Elmo watches this on a monitor offstage - and also while we see a monitor showing his reactions. Lorenzo Da Ponte would have loved it - and Mozart, too.

When the two men fall ill it is due to tainted sushi. Despina does not have to pretend to be a doctor - she brandishes an ipad displaying her medical diploma. And on it goes.

Once one’s ears adjust to the flat acoustics it becomes clear that the singing is given its full due by well-cast artists who give evidence of being on the cusp of serious careers. Particularly striking are the two brides: Shantelle Przybylo creates a downright fierce Felicity, not only in “Come scoglio”, translated as “Like an anchor”. Rihab Chaieb displays killer comedic timing as well as terrific vocalism. The production was performed in Banff last summer with most of this cast (all except Rihab Chaieb and Clarence Frazer) so the production, with all its business, runs extremely well.

While the production is an irreverent treatment of an irreverent libretto, its musical values are solidly grounded. Christopher Mokrzewski conducts from the piano; his ensemble consists only of a string quartet. The group came close to making up for its skimpiness by its verve and accuracy. There were a few cuts (for example, no chorus) but the musical integrity of Cos“ is certainly there. There were a few interludes of conventional TV music - dashes of Mozart would have been more welcome. Joel Ivany has updated the entire libretto and , with the absence of surtitles, not every word can be caught. Nevertheless there is much to enjoy.

Joel Ivany’s previous Mozart adaptations for Against the Grain were Figaro’s Wedding and #UncleJohn.

Michael Johnson



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