CosÏ fan tutte, Palm Beach

There is no mistaking the Austrian
musical polyglot’s imprint on the story’s sarcastic similes, sharp
allusions, and knowing winks however. Yet, for all his life, Mozart experienced
the world in a musical bubble; how did he develop the keen sense of insight
into human behavior that would lead to producing works like CosÏ?

Though we have a picture of a child with a sensitivity to music that was
awe-inspiring, there is also a gestalt view of a child extraordinarily
observant and attentive, with the instincts of a savant. This is probably the
way Mozart experienced the social world, through the lives of others. If
CosÏ is any indicia, he found great amusement in what he witnessed.

joelprieto.gifJoel Prieto [Photo by Felix Broede courtesy of Universal Music Classical Management & Productions]

In his adult life, Mozart was at the receiving end of vicious political
jockeying and nasty pettiness he had no interest in mirroring. He still had an
unquenchable thirst for living, seeking outlets for his energies and potential.
In music, he found the only muse that would woo him. That tireless love for
music probably killed him, but before it did, he would have his fun attending
to and making it.

Mozart has gotten more attention recently from Palm Beach Opera. CosÏ
fan tutte
, last seen here in 1998, completes PBO’s “Mozart-Da
Ponte trilogy”; Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni
were part of the company’s 2009 and 2010 seasons respectively. Two United
States debuts highlight PBO’s second cast opening of CosÏ on
February 26th.

In his first opera conducting assignment in North America, Gianluca
Martinenghi and orchestra distinguished themselves right from the overture with
playing of the utmost delicacy, and sensitivity to Mozart’s score. This
pattern held and generalized to the vocal department, buoying up and
stimulating singing. A regular in some top theaters in Italy, the
conductor’s pacing gave singers the prerogative to explore Da
Ponte’s text. The playing did fall cold at the odd moment, but at the
bridge to “Un Aura Amorosa” and for Fiordiligi’s second act
aria, there was sufficient musical heat. Bruce Statsyna provided not simply
chords, but accent notes, arpeggios, and runs underneath the vocal line on a
healthy harpsichord.

_MG_5853.gifDorabella (Patricia Risley), Fiordiligi (Caitlyn Lynch) and Don Alfonso (Matteo Pierone)

Joel Prieto had regular work in Europe before winning Operalia in 2008. His
breakout came after that competition though, as he has appeared at Covent
Garden, the Liceu, Stuttgart, and the Salzburg Festival. In his North American
opera debut here, the Spanish born, Puerto Rican bred tenor left one wanting
more. Prieto is building a characterization of Ferrando as that of a shy but
curious fellow, one for which Mozart’s music is especially suited. Of the
music, Prieto’s performance tended toward caution; “Un Aura
Amorosa” was unexceptional but for the shading of the second stanza; at
that point, and occasionally later, he sang with the kind of affinity for this
music that has garnered him (much-too-early) comparisons with golden age
aristocratic tenors. His tenor’s quality — amber hued and full,
with an attractive fresh sheen — and size were bare in “Ah! Io
veggio quell’anima bella.”

Caitlyn Lynch also took some time to warm up to Fiordiligi, achieving a
“Per pieta, ben mio perdona” of unexpected commitment and feeling.
Comedic points were hers (and Steven Lawless’) for departing the stage
after the first part of “Come scoglio” and then reentering grandly
for its concluding verse. PBO favorite Patricia Risley has the sort of creamily
textured mezzo — however gummy the diction — and alluring physical
presence that can shift the axis of focus in any performance; in this case the
axis of CosÏ’s “school for lovers” turned often to
her Dorabella. The Guglielmo of Andrew Schroeder was especially susceptible to
fading into the background in this production, though his resonant baritone
would not go unnoticed. Matteo Pierone’s Don Alfonso began to take shape
in the quintet — the highpoint of this CosÏ’s ensemble
singing — that closes Act One. From there on, his Alfonso played
narrator, observing and commenting from the wings. As Despina, Abigail
Nims’ impact was felt as a mysterious, masked dottore and later
as a twitchy notary.

_MG_6301.gifFiordiligi (Caitlyn Lynch), Despina (Abigail Nims) and Dorabella (Patricia Risley),

PBO’s chorus, under the direction of Greg Ritchey, created rich and
sonorous music from offstage, emerging only for the civil ceremony.

Stephen Lawless’ permutation on CosÏ’s magnet-as-poison-antidote
theme was a kite-and-key electric conductor that had Ferrando and Guglielmo
writhing and shuddering. Lawless moved the action upstage, in front of a scrim
curtain of clouds as Alfonso re-pontificated to Ferrando and Guglielmo —
their backs to the audience — “cosÏ” across Ferrando’s
ear, “fan” across Guglielmo’s and “tutte” out
into the theater. It is in the civil ceremony that Lawless’ stage
direction hit a high-water mark that stayed mostly unbroken through much of Act
Two. The scene included an action-stopping moment and then scurrying chorus
members as the marriage contracts were signed. To close the opera, Fiordiligi
and Dorabella crossed each other in confusion over which swain to go to in
“Fortunate L’uom.”

_MG_6491.gifDespina (Abigail Nims), Fiordiligi (Caitlyn Lynch) and Dorabella (Patricia Risley)

On loan from Atlanta Opera, Peter Dean Beck’s sets remember Classical
Roman civilization and Naples; there are statues and columns and the
sorelli are transplanted from their room to tanning on lounge chairs
under an umbrella at a sun-soaked beach (Lighting by Michael Baumgarten). For a
model of costume (owned by Atlanta Opera also) pragmatism we go to the final
scene — designers at Malabar Ltd. cloak the “Albanians” in
desert-beige trench coats, have them switch to floor length soldier uniforms,
and back to the original desert gear, all in a flash.

This performance of CosÏ will go down as an example of competent
Mozart casting from PBO.

Robert Carreras

image_description=Dorabella (Patricia Risley) and Fiordiligi (Caitlyn Lynch) [Photo courtesy of Palm Beach Opera]
product_title=W. A. Mozart: CosÏ fan tutte
product_by=Fiordiligi: Sabina Cvilak (2/25 & 2/27), Caitlin Lynch(2/26 & 2/28); Dorabella: (2/25 & 2/27), Patricia Risley (2/26 & 2/28); Ferrando: Norman Shankle (2/25 & 2/27), Joel Prieto (2/26 & 2/28); Guglielmo: David Adam Moore (2/25 & 2/27), Andrew Schroede (2/26 & 2/28); Despina: Abigail Nims; Don Alfonso: Matteo Peirone. Stephen Lawless, director. Gianluca Martinenghi, conductor.
product_id=Above: Dorabella (Patricia Risley) and Fiordiligi (Caitlyn Lynch)

Production photos courtesy of Palm Beach Opera