(l-r) Robert Gleadow as Guglielmo, Paul Appleby as Ferrando, Wallis Giunta as
Dorabella and Layla Claire as Fiordiligi. Photo: Michael CooperReviewed by James Karas
The Canadian Opera Company has struck gold with a fabulous production of Cosi fan Tutte.
The production is directed by Atom Egoyan. All one expects from a director is to reimagine an opera and create something refreshingly new and marvelous especially from a familiar chestnut. Men and women in wigs singing beautifully amid opulent sets (if the company can afford them) or stage furnishings that look as if they were borrowed from Ikea will not kill Cosi but is there not something better? Ask Egoyan.
Forget the café where Don Alfonso (Sir Thomas Allen) challenges the besotted Guglielmo (Robert Gleadow) and Ferrando (Paul Appleby) about the constancy of women. No need for a garden in a villa for the sisters Fiordiligi (Layla Claire) and Dorabella (Wallis Giunta) or rooms in their aristocratic digs. The four lovers attend a school run by Don Alfonso. They and many other students are clean-cut young people, dressed very nicely in white blazers and ties, and are taking up fencing and perhaps lepidoptery. In any event, butterflies come in handy as symbols of freedom or faith or transformation all of which add to the enjoyment and subtlety of the production.
The action takes place in the school until we move to their house where the dominant feature is Frida Kahlo’s “The Two Fridas.”
The school setting gives the production the sense of youth, freshness and vigour while maintaining a classy atmosphere. There are some frightful productions where the lovers look like the great unwashed but Egoyan will have none of that.
Egoyan adds a wonderful depth to the seemingly light-hearted treatment of constancy and infidelity. “The Two Fridas” is a dual portrait of the artist before and after her separation from her husband. The exposed heart on the woman on the right is intact. The heart of the post-separation Frida is broken and there is blood on her dress. Separation and infidelity are not fun.
The Frida on the right holds an amulet with a portrait of her husband on it. The heart of the Frida on the right is bleeding and she cannot stem the flow.
Dorabella carries a miniature of Ferrando. In the second act of Cosi, Guglielmo’s amorous assault on her culminates in the removal of his friend’s portrait and its replacement with a pendant. They both know that they have betrayed Ferrando and describe the result as exquisite pain but Egoyan takes it one step further.
The brilliant conception is accompanied with equally successful execution on stage and in the pit. Canadian soprano Layla Claire as Fiordiligi leads the outstanding cast. She sings the big and tough “Come scoglio” with fervour and passion. She may not have all the low notes that the aria needs but she gives a marvelous rendition and does an overall superb job in the role.
Canadian mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta is excellent as Dorabella. Canadian bass Robert Gleadow and American tenor Paul Appleby make a nice set of lovers. They appear young, full of life and hormones. Guglielmo is usually sung by a baritone but I found Gleadow’s voice provided a pleasant contrast with Appleby’s light tenor range.
Baritone Sir Thomas Allen is approaching his seventieth birthday and deserves nothing but praise. When he states as Don Alfonso that he has gray hair he does not need any help from the hair salon. No doubt age is taking a toll on him but on Alfonso is not so much a job as a cake walk for him.
Canadian soprano Tracy Dahl played a sparkling Despina. She is small, comic, energetic and just a pleasure to watch and listen to.
Johannes Debus conducted the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra in a well-paced performance of this new and memorable production.
Cosi Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte opened on January 18 and will be performed nine times until February 21, 2014 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario. Tel: 416-363-6671. www.coc.ca