All Women Are Like That ... Attempts to translate Così fan tutte from Italian into meaningful English — this one among the more prosaic — exemplify the perpetual challenge since Mozart’s 1790 sexual comedy first appeared in this country in 1922, when the Met premiered it. Now entrenched as a repertory mainstay, Così received its third Indianapolis Opera production last weekend, filling Clowes Hall, as usual.
Curt Peterson (Ferrando), Amy Johnson (Fiordiligi), Kirsten Gunlogson (Dorabella), Stephen Hartley (Guglielmo) and Lielle Berman Robertson in Indianapolis Opera’s production of Mozart’s ‘Cosi fan tutte,’ which was staged last weekend.
Mozart’s third and final collaboration with his great librettist Lorenzo da Ponte — following The Marriage of Figaro (1786) and Don Giovanni (1787) — produced another masterpiece. However, Così does not quite contain the continuous white heat of musical inspiration that flowed through Mozart in his first two da Ponte operas. Thus, I would have preferred that IO had mounted Figaro this time, as the company last presented it in 1993 — while Così appeared in 1996. Still, I’ll take what was offered, especially when it featured sopranos Amy Johnson singing Fiordiligi and Kirsten Gunlogson as her sister Dorabella, both having been paired in IO’s Tchaikovsky Eugene Onegin production two seasons ago. Their betrothed lovers, Guglielmo and Ferrando respectively, were sung by tenors Stephen Hartley and Curt Peterson. Completing this ensemble cast of six, baritone John Davies sang the vicariously lecherous old schemer Don Alfonso, and soprano Lielle Berman Robertson — making her IO debut — sang Despina, the sisters’ worldly wise maid. First and foremost, all six provided excellent ensemble singing in an opera filled with duets, trios, quartets, etc. — along with a scarcity of solo arias. Of these, Johnson (who was made up to appear older than she should have been) has to be cited for her opulently projected “Come scoglio,” perhaps the opera’s most beautiful aria. And the Johnson-Gunlogson combo delivered exquisitely matched voices in their duets, as did Hartley and Peterson, as did all four in their quartets. The plot is farcically intriguing: Guglielmo and Ferrando wager Don Alfonso that their respective lovers will always remain faithful. To prove them wrong, Alfonso, with Despina’s aid, has the men disguised as “exotic” Albanians (?), with the two agreeing to switch the women as their objects. After many seductive hijinks through Act 1 and into Act 2, Guglielmo finally cajoles Dorabella into acquiescence, and the two walk off stage arm in arm and “do it.” Ferrando, highly put out by his Dorabella’s infidelity but still holding to his bargain with Alfonso, continues to pursue Fiordiligi till she finally concedes, and they walk out arm in arm — to do it. Ferrando returns immediately (evidently needing one of our modern male prescription aids), and Guglielmo cries to high heaven over Fiordiligi’s weakness. They straighten things out in the end, with all forgiven (really?). As the schemers, Alfonso and Despina were both convincingly sung and acted. Stage director John Green nicely coordinated the principals with the chorus. Robert Dahlstrom’s meager sets — two moveable doorways and painted backdrops — were sufficient for this plot-driven work. IO artistic director James Caraher led the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra with generally polished pit support, occasionally needing a bit more verve.