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Cozy Fun, Two-Timing

Palm Beach
Kravis Center for the Performing Arts
02/25/2011 -  & February 26, 27*, 28**, 2011
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Così fan tutte
Sabina Cvilak*/Caitlin Lynch** (Fiordiligi), Jurgita Adamonyte*/Patricia Risley** (Dorabella), Norman Shankle*/Joel Prieto** (Ferrando), David Adam Moore*/Andrew Schroeder** (Guglielmo), Abigail Sims (Despina), Matteo Peirone (Don Alfonso)
Palm Beach Opera and Chorus, Gianluca Martinenghi (conductor)
Stephen Lawless (director), Peter Dean Beck (scenic design), Malabar Ltd. (costume design), Michael Baumgarten (lighting design)

(© Palm Beach Opera)

Palm Beach Opera started off its austerity budget season with a knockout Nabucco. That was followed by one brilliant performance of Verdi’s Requiem followed by Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice in a semi-staged though gloriously sung and thoroughly conceived staging. After adventures into the less familiar, it was time to revisit the bread-and-butter. Così fan tutte is never a simple opera. If the singing isn’t topnotch then this soufflé will never rise and one of opera’s masterpieces will be a drag. And though a perfect production of anything is quite rare, Palm Beach Opera’s production came close.

I pity Fiordiligis and Ferrandos everywhere. They work themselves into a frenzy performing some of Mozart’s most difficult arias, and then only adequate Despinas and Don Alfonsos breeze in and steal all the applause with their loveable characters. Dorabella’s silliness may just stem from the fact that she is an annoying little sister, but one has to admire the shamelessness she finds in the adventure. Like Dorabella, Guglielmo sometimes seems shortchanged in music because this opera is really the showcase for the tenor and especially the soprano. Palm Beach gave four performances using the same Despina and Alfonso for each. Abigail Sims’ Despina was a knockout; vocally “In uomini, in soldati” and “Una donna a quindici anni” were untouchable and her ensemble work tremendous. She had everything necessary to make this somewhat smallish role seem much bigger. Matteo Peirone’s Alfonso was not up to Sims’ caliber. He started off quite solid, though his roughness showed soon and by “Soave sia il vento,” he couldn’t offer the support needed to make this most beautiful trio memorable. Peirone’s Alfonso was neither loveable nor charming draining the game of its fun, thus making it mostly sadistic. Così> sacrifices its love of humanity when the joke’s only aim is to humiliate.

Is there an opera in the entire repertory as tough on its leads as Così? When they are not onstage, they must stay focused for they soon will be. Though there might be quibbles about the principals in the two casts, there is no doubt that their commitment kept audiences riveted. Dorabella is often described as stupid, but not when sung with a singer as confident as Patricia Risley. Her true mezzo sound offered such a contrast to the elegance of Caitlin Lynch’s Fiordiligi. In the first cast, Jurgita Adamonyte played Dorabella as younger, and even less sophisticated. Her pitch wavered throughout the opera, especially in “E amore un ladroncello,” but her characterization was beyond mere cute. This was a girl who really appreciated what this little sexcapade taught her. Sabina Cvilak was a revelation. When she finishes “Per pietà,” it is evident that this day has been more than just a challenge to Fiordiligi; she looks like a woman who has barely survived an internal civil war. The sympathy she achieved made the tragedy of this farce deeply felt.

The males were similarly accomplished. David Adam Moore’s Guglielmo was so thoroughly delighted in the success of his conquest that it is much more than just funny when he is pulled down off his high horse. The second cast’s Andrew Schroeder may have been less sexy, but was no less powerful either, vocally or comedically. His friend Joel Prieto was similarly humorous and had a lovely tenor though few singers will ever match Norman Shankle’s Ferrando. “Un aura amorosa” is one of tenors’ greatest challenges. Not only was Shankle fearless, he offered a phrasing that exposed just how in love this poor young man is and how very dangerous this game has become for him.

Minor problems with the staging like a kite being used during the doctor’s treatment, or Dorabella running under the table during “Smanie implacabili” were easily forgotten when such touches as hanging the soldiers uniforms on the hands of the statues in the beautifully understated set, and Despina counting her coins during the finale gave meaning to some of the often overlooked moments in the text. Costumes were lovely and appropriately funny though keeping both sisters blond in the first cast creates unnecessary confusion.

Così will always disappoint those who refuse to look beyond its surface. If one is willing to commit oneself to what is actually happening in the music and the libretto, it is almost impossible not to leave exhausted, and perhaps, terrified. How would you feel if your lover played such a trick on you? Not so funny if you imagine it actually happening. Palm Beach Opera with Gianluca Martinenghi’s elegant conducting gave this most elegant opera its all. What dedicated audience member will not consider its depths for many days?

Jeff Haller



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