Così fan tutte, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s and Lorenzo Da Ponte’s cynical (or is it realistic?) take on the eternal skirmishing between the sexes, was off to a smart and witty start Saturday night as the Fort Worth Opera’s latest season entry in Bass Hall.
That it was going to be a good night was evident when the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, with Garrett Keast conducting, plunged into the overture. This was sparkling, well-played music, and it set an atmosphere that was going to continue when the consistently excellent cast of singer-actors came onstage.
Così fan tutte has always been a problematic opera for some. The Italian title translates into English as “all women are like that” — “that” not being in the least flattering. The corresponding feminine proposition, that “all men are like that, too,” finds its expression in an aria by the crafty maid Despina, which catalogs male deceptions and frailties.
It’s best to take Così — as Saturday night’s audience did, judging by the laughter — as a clever comedy with an irreverent attitude about everything except rational thought. And, of course, one can’t forget Mozart’s magical music, which enlivens it all.
In brief, the plot concerns two young men who bet an older, wiser man that their fiancees can’t be seduced. With the help of the scheming maid, he proves them wrong. But the couples reconcile before any real harm is done, and the opera ends happily.
There are six solo characters, none of them minor. Fort Worth’s cast includes tenor Scott Quinn and baritone Paul Scholten as the young men Ferrando and Guglielmo; mezzo Kathryn Leemhuis and soprano Jan Cornelius as their fiancees Dorabella and Fiordiligi; baritone Tyler Simpson as the older man; and soprano Kerriann Otaño as the maid Despina.
They are a pretty evenly matched group. I was especially drawn to Cornelius, who handily dealt with the vocal obstacle course that Mozart crafted for Fiordiligi, and Quinn, the attractive lyric tenor playing Ferrando. Otaño, a Fort Worth Opera studio artist, was clearly an audience favorite as Despina.
David Gately’s staging is witty and free of gimmicks, except where Mozart and Da Ponte obviously called for them (see below). Gately’s one departure from the standard Così is the ending. Mozart and Da Ponte neglected to specify which young man reconciled with which fiancee (they probably thought it was obvious). So some directors have the couples switch at the end. Gately toys with the idea but leaves the decision up in the air.
One aforementioned gimmick is Despina’s “magnetic cure” of the supposedly dying young men. This is from the original. It’s a topical reference, with Mozart and Da Ponte poking fun at their era’s craze for Franz Mesmer and his “miracles” of magnetism.
Another topical reference from about the same time is in The Magic Flute, with Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder specifying the recently invented hot-air balloons as a mode of transportation. Most directors and designers leave this out nowadays, though Ingmar Bergman’s film version of Flute has them.
Fort Worth’s scenery for Così fan tutte is suggestive rather than stated. A skeletal group of arches, curves and circles suggests appealing classical structures, with see-through spaces keeping them airy. A solid staircase, movable pieces of furniture and some drapes allow for scene changes. The designers credited are Brian Perchaluk, Bernard Uzan and Michael Baumgarten (sets); A.T. Jones & Sons (costumes); Chad R. Jung (lighting); and Steven Bryant (makeup and wigs).
The opera is sung in Italian. As usual, projected translations are in both Spanish and English. The opera repeats May 3 and 11 at Bass Hall.