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Dorabella (Patricia Risley) and Fiordiligi (Caitlyn Lynch) [Photo courtesy of Palm Beach Opera]
06 Mar 2011

Così fan tutte, Palm Beach

Little is known about the extent to which Mozart and Da Ponte collaborated on the libretto for Così fan tutte.

W. A. Mozart: Così fan tutte

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.

Above: Dorabella (Patricia Risley) and Fiordiligi (Caitlyn Lynch)

Production photos courtesy of Palm Beach Opera


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 Così?

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 Così 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. Così 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 Così 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 Così’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 Così’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 Così’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 — “così” 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 Così will go down as an example of competent Mozart casting from PBO.

Robert Carreras

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