Sunday, September 17, 2017

Maximised melodrama and touching poeticism - a delightfully sung Così fan tutte at Dubai Opera

Premiered just short of two years before his death in 1791, the delightful vitality and arabesque beauty that features in the music of Mozart's two-act opera buffa, Così fan tutte, never ceases to work its charm. Neither does its fanciful story, in which women's fidelity is wagered on and mercilessly tested via a game of deception in the course of a day that goes awry. I've never thought of it as being a particularly savoury work to take a sweetheart on a date to but, as the opera's subtitle, La scuola degli amanti (The School for Lovers), implies, there are lessons to be learned along the way as part of the natural desire to accept love into our hearts.

Soloists of Teatro di San Carlo's production of Così fan tutte at Dubai Opera
Here, in a new specially commissioned production from Naples' Teatro di San Carlo and presented by Dubai Opera as part of the trio of Mozart works in which the composer collaborated with the prodigious librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, director Mariano Bauduin maximises the melodrama while infusing it with the touching poeticism the work contains. In it, the complexity of love is no less diminished by farce and fantasy.

One of the more effective aspects of Bauduin's direction is in how he 'releases' a character from the action during more introspective arias, allowing greater focus on the singing and text while keeping surrounding action gently moving along.

On centre stage, a three-sided latticed garden folly that houses a large marble statue sits on a small revolve in front of which their accompanying spaces provide just a marginal sense of scenic difference. In the background, a stepped area on either side allows for some useful ancillary action but, as a platform for chorus work, it more or less makes them feel disconnected, even redundant. It all overlooks, from on high, a painterly coastal backdrop that makes the arrival of a floral-adorned, gondola-like craft behind the little latticed folly look rather preposterous. Nicola Rubertelli's set design, as pretty as it first looks, begins to tire by opera's end, despite all sorts of dramatic lighting changes thrown on it.

Giusi Giustino's late 19th century fresh, frilled Neapolitan and exotic "Albanian" costumes colour the setting in a pantomime-like diversion but the night didn't go by without a bench being knocked over, the statue almost toppling and almost every footstep on stage noisily getting in the way. Perhaps Bouduin was aiming at the work's sticky, unsettling nature and the frailty of commitment in this prettily contrived picture.

Fortunately, Bauduin is aided by a cast who sing pleasingly in Italian and act marvellously to the beat of each other, singing with especially refined subtlety and appeal in swathes of delicious ensemble work. The experience is assisted with English and Arabic surtitles.

If one is to be elevated above the others, it would be soprano Karen Gardeazabal's well-phrased and lush-voiced Fiordiligi. Vocally, Gardeazabal displays consistent directness and purity, her Act 2 aria "Per pietà, ben mio, perdona", a performance highlight. In it, Fiordiligi has paired off with the disguised Ferrando and Gardeazabal sings with fullness of expression and shading, divulging her heart's dilemma and guilt at entertaining another man while her lover, Guglielmo, is away (he is having better success at wooing Dorabella).

Nao Yokomae, Karen Gardeazabal and Chiara Tirotta
Alongside Gardeazabal, the firmly buttressed and velvety mezzo-soprano Chiara Tirotta is perfectly placed as Fiordiligi's sister, Dorabella, with the pair offering absorbing, precision-timed interpretations in their duets, something their lovers, Maharram Huseynov's Guglielmo and Francisco Brito's Ferrando, couldn't always reliably capture.

Brito's youthful agility and primed slapstick behaviour provide many comic moments but he takes a serious and pensive approach when needed, giving Act 1's  aria, "Un’ Aura Amorosa",  a warm and radiant lyricism as he prematurely smells victory in his sight and praises his lover, Dorabella. Huseynov gives ample bravado in character and a robust and burnished baritone to Guglielmo.

As the sisters' lowly but world-wise housemaid Despina, bright soprano Nao Yokomae lights up the stage with her ebullient and cheeky, pocket-rocket performance while forcing through a delightful coarseness in tone, though sometimes at the expense of phrasing. Handsome-toned and more secure in the lower and middle range, bass Abramo Rosalen entertains marvellously as a colourfully costumed and dandyish Don Alfonso. The chorus of soldiers and townsfolk enter and perform with lukewarm results.

A wondrous sound, however, emanated from the pit where beautiful and markedly delicate orchestral textures were created courtesy of Andrea Albertin's sensitive conducting. Notably, the percussion's patina integrated excellently as did the woodwind's mellowness. The orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo played with glowing  expertise.

When the final ensemble applaud the ability to accept the good with the bad, sung silhouetted in the fore stage with the revolve on a continuous turn, chandeliers moving up and down and the gondola moving back and forward, the shenanigans are done but the topsy-turvy ride love gives feels far from over. A cute finishing touch!

Così fan tutte
Dubai Opera
Performed by Teatro di San Carlo
Until 15th September

Production Photographs: Courtesy of Dubai Opera

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