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Ionarts in Santa Fe: Così fan tutte

Norman Reinhardt (Ferrando), Katherine Goeldner (Dorabella), Dale Travis (Don Alfonso), Mark Stone (Guglielmo), Susanne Mentzer (Despina), and Susanna Phillips (Fiordiligi), Così fan tutte, Santa Fe Opera, photo by Ken Howard © 2007
Santa Fe Opera has revived a smart production of Mozart's Così fan tutte, directed by James Robinson. As the Crosby Theater has no curtain, the five wide chalkboards with “La scuola degli amanti” written across them created a good amount of interest before the performance and through the Overture. To the right of these boards hung a medical diagram of the human heart, where the conniving Don Alfonso (Dale Travis) and his nurse prepared to give marching orders to the ten men lining up on stage, ready for the “School for Lovers” boot camp. Once these chalkboards were pushed aside, sisters Fiordiligi (Susanna Phillips) and Dorabella (Katherine Goeldner), dressed in pure white, were visible, cigarettes in hand, flipping through glossy magazines in a grand salon that later opens into a garden. The sisters scurry to hide the ashes at the entrance of their beaus Ferrando (Norman Reinhardt) and Guglielmo (Mark Stone), the pair who pretend to go off to battle and return in disguise to seduce their friends’ partners, disguised as lecherous Albanians, in order to test their faithfulness, and, of course, win a bet against Don Alfonso. With the help of servant Despina (Susanne Mentzer) and the chorus, bribed visibly in cash by Don Alfonso, the sisters indeed “tried to have their cake and eat it, too.”

Other Reviews:

Scott Cantrell, Santa Fe Opera again center stage (Dallas Morning News, August 2)

Kirsten Laskey, A lesson about love (Los Alamos Monitor, July 5)
In addition to much fine solo singing, cast members – no matter the arrangement – sang duet, trio, and especially quintets with exceptional balance, where moments of rising 5-6 harmonic motion began to reveal the full magic of Mozart. British baritone Mark Stone, making his Santa Fe debut as Guglielmo, had an impressive technique that allowed his voice to widen during dynamic increase. As a result, Stone was best able to exploit the theater’s fine acoustic. American soprano Susanna Phillips’s (Fiordiligi) recitatives – nicely accompanied by fortepiano – were performed most fluently. In Act II, when lamenting, “I burn with passion, but no longer for a virtuous love…betrayal, let them be hidden forever,” Phillips used Mozart’s sparse accompaniment as an opportunity for musical flexibility; she personalized the section well with free, sweet high notes. This more than made up for nice musical attempts at expressivity in Act I, which occasionally resulted in sharpness. American mezzo-soprano Katherine Goeldner portrayed Dorabella memorably, when expressing to a disguised Guglielmo that “I cannot give what I do not own [my heart].” American mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer’s vast on-stage and teaching experience was evident in her entertaining turn as Despina, while American tenor Norman Reinhardt (Ferrando) lacked sufficient legato and support in his upper range.

Though highly entertaining, the success of this production was limited by the rash conducting of London-born William Lacey, who never achieved rapport with the orchestra or cast. By attempting to create excitement through briskness, from overture on, all were left behind, especially in the botched accelerando at the end of Act I. At times, an entire beat separated singer(s) from orchestra.

This production repeats on August 6, 13, 20, and 24.

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