Joel Prieto (Ferrando), Elizabeth Futral (Fiordiligi), Renata Pokupić
(Dorabella), and Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Guglielmo) in Così fan tutte,
Washington National Opera, 2011 (photo by Scott Suchman)
The cast was led by the Don Alfonso of William Shimell, smooth as glass in a welcome and long-overdue company debut, a sort of senior partner to the besuited lawyers of Guglielmo and Ferrando. He was seconded by the stout-voiced Despina of Christine Brandes, as a somewhat butch, latte-fetching executive assistant. Of the two men of the lead couples, Teddy Tahu Rhodes had the upper hand vocally, a baritone of rough-hewn power, although he could have been singing in Albanian for all I knew from his diction. As Ferrando, tenor Joel Prieto, in a disappointing company debut, mostly held his own in the ensemble numbers, with a sometimes disturbing lack of agility on the runs, but tended to sag flat on his own, making his solo moments, especially the luscious aria “Un'aura amorosa,” less than pleasing. There was a similar disparity between the women, with the chesty Fiordiligi of Elizabeth Futral outweighing the wispy Dorabella of Renata Pokupić. The two roles are now generally cast with a soprano and mezzo-soprano, although even more than Susanna and the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro, the two sisters often exchange musical lines, an "implicit demonstration of their interchangeability," as scholar Bruce Alan Brown once put it.
B. A. Brown, Così fan tutte (Cambridge Opera Handbooks)
One of the oddest moments in the opera is, in the words of Bruce Alan Brown, "the extravagant Mesmerian charade in the first finale," when the disguised men are cured of the poison they have supposedly taken by the magnetic cure of Franz Anton Mesmer. The German-born, Vienna-based quack supposedly financed the young Mozart's opera Bastien und Bastienne, although there is no reason to think that Wolfgang or Leopold ever actually believed in the magnetic cure. Mesmerism was officially debunked in 1784, by a commission that included Benjamin Franklin, which found that the apparent cures were due mostly to the suggestibility of Mesmer's female patients. Brown noted that Jonathan Miller, in an earlier production, "has staged the scene quite seriously," where other directors often eliminate or replace the magnetic cure with some more believable ploy. This time, somewhat disappointingly, Miller used a machine that looked like a heart defibrillator, when any number of recent healing "miracles" could have served as well. It is true that the libretto is odd: it was long rumored that Mozart's contemporary Salieri had tried and failed to set it as an opera. This suspicion was not proved until John Rice discovered an autograph score, in Salieri's hand, of that composer's music for two of the numbers, after which he simply stopped.
Anne Midgette, Washington National Opera’s ‘Cosi fan tutte’ (Washington Post, February 27)
Tim Smith, Washington National Opera gives musical, theatrical jolt to 'Cosi fan tutte' (Baltimore Sun, February 27)
Simon Chin, Così fan tutte at the Washington National Opera (Maryland Theater Guide, February 27)
This production continues through March 15, in the Kennedy Center Opera House.