While a pandemic has crippled opera performance in front of a live audience across the world, Melbourne hosted another treat on the weekend with IOpera’s close up encounter of Mozart’s Così fan tutte.
In a spare but lively ignited showing, the work’s exploration of fidelity became effortlessly revealed, its more than 200 year old profound musical beauty and comical yet thought-provoking nature simultaneously brought together with aplomb.
The plot? Two privileged but unworldly sisters are duped after a bet is wagered between their adoring soldier-mate fiancés and philosophising friend Don Alfonso, who insists a woman’s fidelity is like the Arabian phoenix; everyone swears it exists but no one knows where. Under the pretence of being called away on battle duty, the men return as disguised, moustached Albanians, seduce the other’s partner and, to their shock, win their hearts – clearly not a victory they had hoped for.
Under novice director Jane Magão’s commendable hand, the loss of innocence shined through, along with a few bruised hearts and a helping of forgiveness. Così lends itself to all kinds of interpretations, but despite Magão playing safe with characters garbed in eye-pleasing period placed costumes, the overall results achieved by their smooth interplay and fullness of characterisation spoke with much contemporary relevance. Balancing the poignancy of the work without over-egging the comic aspects paid off.
A strong, well rehearsed cast sang with meaning and emotion to conductor David Kram’s unhurriedly paced music-making. In allowing moments to delightfully linger and energising the score without overwhelming the singers, Kram did nice work of Jonathan Lynees’ reduced orchestration. With an orchestra of ten on stage placed behind the action, however, the synchronisation between orchestra and the singers often slumped but the pieces were picked up without too much interference.
One after another, Mozart’s priceless pearls of music and Lorenzo da Ponte’s witty and insightful libretto imparted their sublimity and introspection. And as it demands to be, the ensemble singing was particularly tidy and harmonious.
Soprano Louise Keast and mezzo-soprano Naomi Flatman were both radiant as sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, their opening duet, Ah guarda sorella, a gorgeously perfected introduction as they each praise their man.
As the more protective and cautious sibling, Keast’s succulent, foundation-firm soprano stood up to the task of delivering Fordiligi’s two big arias superbly, Act 2’s Per pietà, ben mio, perdona an especially captivating display as Fiordiligi attempts to banish desire for another man. Flatman’s demure but inquisitive Dorabella endeared to no end, her pliant mezzo and attractive tonal shading adding immense depth to her character.
A palpable camaraderie existed between baritone Darcy Carroll’s Guglielmo and Zachary McCulloch’s Ferrando, Darcy imposing in voice and presence and McCulloch singing with Italianate warmth. Darcy’s physical comedy flair and astute vocal expressivity were invaluable and McCulloch, while reaching his limits, certainly nailed Act 2’s deceptively challenging Un’aura amorosa with tear-inducing sensitivity.
Peter Tregear sang a distinguished Don Alfonso and, in a clever touch, presented as a man having been spurned by love and given up on it. Completing the lineup, the director herself cheekily ran the household as the servant Despina. Magão acted the part with effervescent charm, sweetness of voice and was a hoot in her disguises of quack and notary.
Così might often look somewhat misogynistic and out of touch with modern moral culture but even contemporary minds can’t escape the prickly and powerful conundrum it raises regarding love and desire, of fidelity and trust. For that, it is easy to see and feel it’s enduring allure.
Così fan tutte
Lithuanian Club Theatre, Errol Street, North Melbourne
Performance: Friday 30 April & Sunday 2 May 2021
Image: IOpera’s Così fan tutte – photo by Vivian Wheatley
Review: Paul Selar