Even in the days before #MeToo, handling the apparent misogyny of Mozart and Da Ponte’s Così fan tutte caused headaches for many a director. Especially problematic to stage is the quite ambiguous reconciliation scene occurring at the end. Everything seems to be back at the starting point, but nothing can be as before. Do the original lovers get together again? Is the sometimes hilarious, sometimes painful switch of partners that is at the core of the work made permanent?

Marianne Crebassa (Dorabella) © Cory Weaver
Marianne Crebassa (Dorabella)
© Cory Weaver

In this production, set in a Mediterranean hotel in August 1914, English director John Cox selected neither of the two possible outcomes. In a deus ex machina ending, Ferrando and Guglielmo are summoned to war, this time for real. The evening started with another powerful metaphor. In the very first tableau, Don Alfonso, the part-cynical-part-ridiculous little demiurge, is seen acting as a roulette croupier (Cox’s production was initially conceived for the Opéra de Monte-Carlo). It’s definitely a reference to the infamous wager about women’s constancy, but also, perhaps, a suggestion that making and unmaking human pairs is just a throw of dice. Not all the directorial choices were as remarkable though. In the garden scene, where the new couples are forged, Ferrando is made to exit and enter the stage on a ridiculous little sailboat that is pushing aside other similar cardboard contraptions (sets and costumes are by Robert Perdziola). In a scene with seriously dark undertones, the decision only brings out unnecessary laughter.

Così fan tutte, is not just an opera buffa and this production, first seen in Chicago during the 2006-2007 season and now revived by Bruno Ravella, is not always successful in maintaining the proper balance between comic and serious. It doesn’t make clear enough the dichotomy between a musical score that explores the depths of the human soul, the disruptive and transformative character of love, and a text which is rooted in commedia dell’arte. There is too much grimacing, Guglielmo and especially Ferrando acting, most of the time, like buffoons. There is no sense of a grim reaper lurking in the background, behind all these declarations of love.

Joshua Hopkins (Guglielmo), Elena Tsallagova (Despina) and Andrew Stenson (Ferrando) © Cory Weaver
Joshua Hopkins (Guglielmo), Elena Tsallagova (Despina) and Andrew Stenson (Ferrando)
© Cory Weaver

Similar to all Mozart and Da Ponte’s collaborations, the synergies between singers are key to any effective rendition. As sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, Ana María Martínez and Marianne Crebassa matched well each other both vocally and physically in their beautiful pre-Great War outfits. Less agile vocally, having difficulties with the fioriture in the upper register, Martínez sang with distinction her second act big aria – “Per pietà, ben mio, perdona”successfully bringing forward the nostalgia and regret imbued in the music. Possessor of a creamy voice and a fluent coloratura, French mezzo Crebassa portrayed well Dorabella’s fickleness, moving around the stage with great ease. Her legato in “Smanie implacabili” was exquisite. Crebassa’s chemistry with Canadian baritone Joshua Hopkins, the interpreter of Guglielmo, in “Il core vi dono” was one of the evening’s high points. Without truly shining, Hopkins was a solid presence all around, bringing adequate intensity to his rant against women. Starting shakily and overplaying all sorts of antics, the young tenor Andrew Stenson sung with tremendous lyrical sensitivity Ferrando’s “Un’aura amorosa”. Making her debut in the United States, Russian soprano Elena Tsallagova occasionally dominated a stage full of characters as a cunning Despina really should. Her original accent sometimes distinguishable, Tsallagova’s phrasing was impeccable in her two main arias, especially so in “Una donna a quindici anni”. Baritone Alessandro Corbelli rounded the cast in an understated but carefully calibrated performance of Don Alfonso, the opera’s manipulative raisonneur.

Andrew Stenson (Ferrando), Alessandro Corbelli (Don Alfonso) and Joshua Hopkins (Guglielmo) © Cory Weaver
Andrew Stenson (Ferrando), Alessandro Corbelli (Don Alfonso) and Joshua Hopkins (Guglielmo)
© Cory Weaver

From the first bars of the overture, with strings depicting men’s pompous certainty against the sinuous feminine sound of the English horn, to the not-so-celebratory finale, the orchestra’s performance, under James Gaffigan’s baton, was clean and neat but not sufficiently involved. The wonderful dialogues between voices and woodwinds didn’t shine. One did only rarely have the feeling that, no matter how silly the text and the actions depicted on the stage, the music was divinely inspired indeed.

***11