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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Cosí fan tutti
A caveat for feminists and those who think of opera in terms of dark, tragic plots with at least one person dying. The translation of the title is "All Women Are Like That". The fluffy plot centers on two somewhat ditzy sisters, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, who are engaged to two young officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo. The devoted but somewhat flighty ladies fall prey to a plan by their fiancés' cynical bachelor friend Don Alfonso to prove his theory that all women are fickle and easily persuaded to replace one man with a more available one.
But political correctness or a believable and strong plot isn't what this chamber opera in two acts is about. Its appeal rests with Mozart's incredible combos -- duos, trios, quintets, etc. Who cares if the sisters quite incredibly fail to see through their fiancés' disguises and let Despina, their maid, and Don Alfonso trap them into a flirtation that almost ends in a double marriage (with the wrong fiancés no less)? Despite opera lovers who thought the libretto too inconsequential to deserve Mozart's music and attempts by several writers in the 1800s to retrofit the music with a new libretto (with dire consequences), Così fan tutte has remained one of most beloved operas since its 1790 Vienna debut. It was Jacqueline Kennedy's favorite opera. It is also a favorite with the Berkshire Opera Company which is staging it for the second time in this its seventeenth season -- the last in its rented space before settling into its permanent new home in Great Barrington .
Maestro Joel Revzen couldn't have assembled a better cast to show off the melodic lushness and handle the farcical proceedings with panache and emotional resonance. Several have made strong impressions in previous BOC productions:
Bass baritone John Cheek, who so ably portrayed and sang the part of the secret police agent in The Consul and Lawyer Royall in Summer (see links below), is equally affecting as the trouble-making Don Alfonso. Stephen Powell, last seen as the womanizing central character in Don Giovanni, is now the devoted Guglielmo, his bass tenor powerful as ever. Barbara Shirvis, who in a case of life imitating art, was a visibly pregnant Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, is once again trim and lovely, and it's a treat to hear her lyrical soprano in such virtuoso arias as "Come scoglio". Another BOC favorite, the vivacious Sari Gruber (The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute), is a delight to watch and listen to, whether in her day job as the wise and wily maid or disguised as a doctor and a notary.
From the first tantalizing trio when Don Alfonso and his friends argue about women's virtue and the wager that drives the farce is tendered and accepted, through the finale that features the entire ensemble, this Così fan tutte is a feast for the ears. Michael Yeargin's single set design is attractive and efficient if not spectacular. This being the company's single fully staged offering of the season -- with an attractively efficient if not spectacular rented set design -- the company's more full-featured future in the refurbished Mahaiwe Theatre (which was built as a vaudeville house and is considered an acoustical gem) looms ever more excitingly on Berkshire opera enthusiasts' horizon.
The Magic Flute
The Marriage of Figaro