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West Bay Opera’s Cosi Fan Tutte – Promise Unfulfilled

Palo Alto
West Bay Opera, Lucie Stearn Theatre
02/18/2000 -  and 19, 20, 25, 26, and 27 February, 2000
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Cosi Fan Tutte
Gary Ruschman/Andrew Truett (Ferrando), Gary Sorenson/Todd Donovan (Guiglielmo), Michael Morris/William Neely (Don Alfonso), Lanier McNab/Maureen Metté (Fiordiligi), Michele Pecher/Sally Mouzon (Dorabella), Jenni Samuelson/Alicia von Kugelgen (Despina)
West Bay Opera Orchestra and Chorus, David Sloss (Conductor)
David F. Ostwald (Stage Director)

Opening night started out promisingly for West Bay Opera’s production of Cosi Fan Tutte. Using the Ruth and Thomas Martin English translation, the singers exhibited admirable diction making the surtitles superfluous in Mozart’s comic opera. Jean François Revon’s painterly set design, featuring a turntable to facilitate swift changes of settings, conveyed a rustic charm that captured the innocent world in which Mozart begins his masterful opera.
Music Director David Sloss steered a clear path with his reading of the score, with reasonable tempi and an ear for balance between stage and pit. The orchestra sounded rather thin and edgy during the overture, but the pay off was textural clarity and clean, direct phrasing. It was a safe, uneventful reading that, while sympathetic to the singers, never delved too deeply into the delicate balance of serious and comical elements.
The opening scenes exhibited the singers at their best. Gary Ruschman’s Ferrando and Gary Sorenson’s Guiglielmo matched each other well and had the sort of on-stage rapport to convince the audience that these were indeed two longtime friends. Ruschman’s light tenor sounded pure and freely produced, balancing nicely with Sorenson’s more robust baritone.
As their cynical friend who sets the plot in motion, Michael Morris handled the role of Don Alfonso with a light hand, avoiding any sense of bitterness and treating the whole scheme of duping the men’s fiancées as a mischievous lark. Morris’s darker baritone handled the role easily, sounding natural in both aria and recitative.
The best performance of the first cast (the roles were all double cast) was that of Jenni Samuelson’s Despina. Here was the kind of sparkling energy and vitality that enlivened the stage with her every appearance. Without resorting to scenery chewing, Samuelson conveyed the sort of performance joy that enraptures the audience and integrates the musical and dramatic values into a cohesive whole.
Both Lanier McNab as Fiordiligi and Michele Pecher as Dorabella looked stunning in their elegant period gowns designed by Richard W. Battle. And they both played the parts of the fiancées convincingly, despite vocal writing that taxed both of them beyond their current limits.
Unfortunately, once Ferrando and Guiglielmo reappeared in disguise as part of Don Alfonso’s scheme to prove their ladies fickle, the production took a turn for the worse. At that point, the deft, sophisticated approach that director David F. Ostwald had taken thus far was replaced by sophomoric clowning about to an extent that would embarrass National Lampoon movies. The possibility that the women would fall for such buffoons made mockery of Mozart and da Ponte’s carefully crafted opera and the production devolved into an embarrassment.
From that point onward, it was a constant battle between the visual slapstick and the aurally sophistication and the jarring contrast prevented any cohesive concept. Mozart, the cast and the audience all deserved better than they got.

Kelly Snyder



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