COSI FAN TUTTE
Opera in 2 Acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte
Performance by Opera Australia on Saturday, 17th March 2012 in the Opera Theatre of the Sydney Opera House.
Conductor Benjamin Northey
Director Jim Sharman
Scenery Designer Ralph Myers
Costume Designer Gabriela Tylesova
Lighting Designer Damien Cooper
Choreography Joshua Consandine
Assistant Director Kip Williams
Fortepiano continuo Kate Golla
Ferrando Stephen Smith
Guglielmo Samuel Dundas
Don Alfonso Richard Anderson
Fiordiligi Sharon Prero
Dorabella Sian Pendry
Despina Lorina Gore
After a three year rest, the Jim Sharman production of Mozart and da Pontes’ third and final opera returned to the Opera Theatre of the Sydney Opera House to conclude the Summer Season works. It suffers from being the last of three Mozart productions (2 of them modern updatings with the same set designer) in this season, and audience fatigue of Mozart was evident. The upper loges were empty and a substantial number of premium seats in the stalls were also empty. Again the opera was sung in English.
The Sharman production frames the production within a modern wedding celebration, where the marrying couple, an Australian man and a Japanese bride seat themselves on the sides of the stage projecting around the orchestra pit and watch, and occasionally involve themselves in the unfolding shenanigans of some of their wedding guests – the unmarried couples of the opera.
The production is framed in a solitary white set with a rolling a high flowing ramp descending from the back of the stage reminiscent perhaps of the sand descending to the water at Bondi Beach (a frequent haunt for Japanese weddings) and angled side walls leaning to the right hand side of the stage. After a while the effect of the slightly leaning walls produces an illusion of the stage being tilted to the side which I found unsettling. Opening with the trio of men concluding their workout in a gym while dressing in the change room and discussing the love life of Ferrando and Guglielmo works well, as did the following scene with their lovers in swim wear. The men march of to war in army camouflage fatigues, later they are resuscitated by Despina with a device resembling a dildo, stylised period costumes are used for the chorus in the garden scene and the wedding banquet table is a long platform flown in from the fly tower on which Despina does a sassy strip and fan dance for her Act II aria, “Una Donna”. Thankfully, the restudied production omitted much of the previously intrusive use of a cameraman on stage filming the action. Much of the stage action was very active, physically demanding, and at times almost busy, producing a fast paced and extremely comedic production. There were some memorable stage pictures, particularly for the chorus for the Act II evening garden scene.
Musically the performances were in the more than competent hands of the young Australia conductor, Benjamin Northey who delivered a sparkling account of the score. Sian Pendry was the only original member of the cast. She has grown considerably in this role, and also in size of her voice since the productions last outing. Lorina Gore, an experienced member of the company, made a delightfully sung and acted Despina. Somehow the complete package of vivacity, manipulation of events and humour was unfortunately not as well delineated in the production – though no fault of Ms Gore. The rest of the cast consisted of young and less experienced singers who did an absolutely sterling job both vocally and dramatically, only lacking more experience, further development, and a better production to be entirely successful. Ensembles were all well sung pattering along with excellent precision and colour amidst the fast paced and extremely physical action.
Richard Anderson surprised as a resonant and well sing and acted Don Alfonso. This singer now seems to be finally making his mark in the company after an excellent performance of Tereus in Richard Mill’s opera THE LOVE OF THE NIGHTINGALE in 2011, and now Don Alfonso. Similarly Sam Dundas as Guglielmo. Previous roles though well sung, have been wooden. Not so in this role which was sung and performed with verve. Indeed he has even deserved a rating on the barihunks site ( http://barihunks.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/shirtless-samuel-dundas-heats-up-cosi.html ) !
Stephen Smith also continues to improve in this, his largest main stage role to date. His well sung Ferrando, particularly in the ensembles, was matched by an ease of acting. His upper range needs a little more work for his aria “Un aura amorosa” which required some effort and loss of the liquid tone required above the stave in this difficult number.
In the vocally demanding role of Fiordiligi, Sharon Prero sang with precision but the voice initially was marred by a steely tone. She settled in time delivering a well sung “Come scoglio”, albeit lacking the fine tonal quality present in some of the best exponents of the role seen on this stage over the years, such as Joan Carden, Yvonne Kenny and Amanda Thane. The production was well supported by a small chorus and the excellent of the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra.
Although containing some entertaining scenes and some fine singing, this production is the least successful of the three Mozart operas presented in this Summer Season. Despite the valiant attempts of the experienced and ingenious director Jim Sharman (surely a living National treasure), and a young, vibrant group of promising singers this seemed a long evening in the theatre. Unfortunately the singing and staging never realised the lofty heights that this Mozart work surely requires. The casting would be quite acceptable for a regional opera company, but not for our National company. The administration of Opera Australia has not only let the singers down by not supporting them with more experienced singers mixed into the cast for this opera, and also the new MAGIC FLUTE, but more importantly they have let their audience down. Opera Australia cannot expect it’s audience to grow when they deliver works not cast to knock the socks of the audience. A shame that there were more vacant seats after the interval.