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'Ainsi font-elles toutes'

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Mozart, Così fan tutte, V. Gens, B. Fink, Concerto Köln, R. Jacobs
The idea of Opera Lafayette's new season, called The French Così, is intriguing. Seeking a French connection for the libretto of Mozart and Da Ponte's Così fan tutte -- one of the operas we have reviewed the most over the years -- the company is pairing it with Philidor's Les Femmes Vengées. To make the connection clearer, this production was sung in the French adaptation by L. V. Durdilly, from the late 19th century and with spoken dialogue instead of recitatives, heard at its first performance last night. The idea is that the Philidor opera is like a sequel to the Mozart, with the two couples grown older. To make the cast list parallel, Despina has to become Madame Riss, the wife of a famous painter, so director Nick Olcott has inserted the man she is to marry, Monsieur Riss, as a silent character in Così. Jeffrey Thompson was a busy presence in the role, taking a shine to and seducing the maid Delphine, although his continued silence in scenes with other characters speaking and singing was hard to justify dramatically, unless he was meant to be someone physically unable to speak.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Opera Lafayette’s delightful ‘Cosi’ gives tradition a whole new look (Washington Post, October 22)

Previous productions:

Jonathan Miller (Washington National Opera, 2012; Covent Garden, 2010)
Eric Einhorn (Wolf Trap, 2009)
Dieter Dorn (Munich, 2007)
James Robinson (Santa Fe, 2007)
Andrea Dorf (WNO Young Artists, 2007)
Joe Banno (Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, 2006)
Neither the singing nor the playing was all that extraordinary, but perhaps this seems so because the sound of Les Violons du Roy and Stephanie Blythe earlier this week is so prominent in my memory. Mezzo-soprano Blandine Staskiewicz's Dorabelle stood out for the most present and richest tone of the quartet of mixed-up lovers, often overshadowing the compact, somewhat tense Fleurdelise of Pascale Beaudin, who did not always have what it takes to ride the top of the ensembles. Tenor Antonio Figueroa (Fernand) and baritone Alex Dobson (Guillaume) had entirely too much fun in their roles, taking joy in seducing each other's beloved but ending up a little scared that they were succeeding, although occasionally so enthusiastic that they were ahead of the beat. Claire DeBono's Delphine was pert and bright, because slightly nasal, and Bernard Deletré, the veteran of many of our favorite Baroque recordings, was an august, officious Don Alphonse, sometimes just a little behind the beat.

It is such a good opera, even without the recitatives and with a few cuts taken here, that it sparkles even in circumstances that are not optimal. Olcott's staging was wry and consistent, with astute acting direction ruling the day, helping us see the little wrinkles of thoughts and nuances in this beautifully characterized work. Only the clumsy dumb show action of the staged overture seemed inapt. Sets by Misha Kachman and costumes by Kendra Rai were solidly 18th-century, to particularly hilarious effect in the disguises for the male lovers, set here as fur-bedecked Canadian trappers. Conductor Ryan Brown kept a handle on the complex score, in spite of some stickiness in the woodwind runs here and there and the occasional early entrance. To find out how or if Mozart truly dovetails with Philidor's Les Femmes Vengées, you will have to wait until its performance on January 17.

1 comment:

Gary said...

I went to both performances and really enjoyed it. What really struck me was that, even though it has a silly and frivolous exterior, it has a very profound and even sad core. Even after being a super for WNO's Cosi production, I have trouble figuring out whether it's a comedy or tragedy.