Sunday, May 19, 2019

Bristling with energy but Opera Australia's Così fan tutte lapses in musical strength in Melbourne: Herald Sun Review

Published in print in edited form in Melbourne's Herald Sun on Thursday16th May, 2019

In Così fan tutte, Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte give a tough lesson on love and fidelity. Light-hearted but heated, it lays out a battle of the sexes in a ludicrous romp that has infinite theatrical adaptability. Provocative, innuendo-rich, touching and set to music of utmost pleasures, it rather serves as a yardstick from which how far society has come. 

Samuel Dundas as Guglielmo, Anna Dowsley as Dorabella,
Jane Ede as Fiordiligi and Pavel Petrov as Ferrando
As the final instalment of director Sir David McVicar’s study of the three Mozart/Da Ponte operas for Opera Australia, the work bristles with energy under revival director Andy Morton. Gorgeously staged, designer Moritz Junge's neoclassical spaces and David Finn's summery lighting add enchantment to its day of romantic reform in a time just before WWI as the world was changing rapidly.

Especially so, its six characters present their intentions with sustained intelligibility and a thoughtful balance exists between tested hearts and comic attack. But the bold and beautiful delights it began with musically and vocally lapsed across its three hours of challenging stints of ravishing arias, duets, trios and up to sextets.

Setting the lesson in motion, Richard Anderson’s dignified Don Alfonso was strong and promising. Pavel Petrov as Ferrando and Samuel Dundas as Guglielmo also opened in muscular form as his young well-bred friends he makes a wager with, asserting that their fiances won’t be faithful. 

Jane Ede as Fiordiligi, Taryn Fiebig as Despina
and Anna Dowsley as Dorabella
But all three lost out as top end of the voice faltered to privileged sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella who soprano Jane Ede and mezzo Anna Dowsley captured in eloquent voice with Dowsley particularly showing individual excellence. And easily lured in to unsaddle the myth of fidelity, Taryn Fiebig cut a figure of comic aplomb and disguise in bright mezzo form as the sisters' housemaid Despina.

In the pit, the sound warmly radiated but fell short of propulsion from conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson. Orchestra Victoria was having an unusually off night too in the brass department although the filigreed woodwinds were superb.
In the end, McVicar casts a hint of pessimism that things may not be so rosy in the future – a caution for young lovers on their first date!

Così fan tutte
Opera Australia 
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne 
Until 25th May 2019

3.5 stars

Production Photos: Jeff Busby

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