REVIEW: “Così fan tutte” at the Met Opera
In a fun bit of theatrical trading places, opera diva Renée Fleming is currently starring on Broadway in a terrific new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel”, while Broadway star Kelli O’Hara is diva-ing it up in The Metropolitan Opera’s terrific new production of Mozart’s “Così fan tutte”.
While Ms. Fleming’s voice is impeccable, her grand acting style is a little out of place at the Imperial. However, Ms. O’Hara seamlessly slides onto the stage at the Met Opera; if it didn’t know her musical theatre career, I’d swear she’s a member of the company.
Phelim McDermott oversees the first new production of “Così” for the Met Opera since 1996, cleverly transposing Mozart’s comedic romp from 18th Century Naples to 1950s Coney Island. Sometimes such setting concepts can be forced or hokey. Not so here. Indeed, one of the great delights of this “Così” is the constant reminder of just how well the concept works, proving the universality of Lorenzo Da Ponte’s 1790 libretto about faithfulness, forgiveness, and the arbitrary nature of love.
In “Così”, cynical bachelor Don Alfonso (Christopher Maltman) challenges army officers Fernando (Ben Bliss) and Guglielmo’s (Adam Plachetka) contention that their respective fiancées, the sisters Dorabella (Serena Malfi) and Fiordiligi (Amanda Majeski), are faithful to them. With the aid of mischievous motel maid Despina (Kelli O’Hara), Don Alfonso constructs a playful ruse to prove his theory that the women will be unfaithful (the title of the opera roughly translates to “all women are like that”), sending Fernando and Guglielmo “off to battle” and having Despina re-introduce them, in suave 1950s-Brooklyn disguise, to Fiordiligi and Dorabella. At first, the women rebuff these strangers’ advances, but eventually they succumb—to each other’s fiancé! In the end, after much farce, identities are revealed and amends made.
The vivid design by Tom Pye (sets), Laura Hopkins (costumes), and Paule Constable (lights), perfectly summons the festive carnival atmosphere of mid-century Coney Island. And a specially hired troupe of side show carnies completes the picture: a bearded-lady, little people, sword swallowers, contortionists, and a strongman. The closing of act one finds the lovers on Luna Park’s famous tea cups, while Fiordiligi’s soaring act two aria literally takes flight as she rides Deno’s Wonder Wheel. The mise-en-scène is sublimely fun and evocative throughout, and it is a joy to hear Mozart’s music so beautifully sung.
The characters of “Così” are well-sketched—particularly the women. Despite the title, which becomes a laugh line, the opera is no more a condemnation of women than it is of men, or more simply: blind love. Beneath the farce and romp is a very serious and contemporary exploration of what love is and means, and how it is in a constant state of change, both arbitrary and enduring. For those looking for it, “Così” gives great texture to these ideas. For those who just want to sit back and enjoy a gorgeous score and a light comedic opera expertly executed, “Così fan tutte” is a wonderful offering.
“Così fan tutte”
The Metropolitan Opera
30 Lincoln Center Plaza
New York, NY 10023
Running Time: 3 hours, 20 minutes (one intermission)
Opening Night: March 15, 2018
Final Performance: April 19, 2018
April 16th at 7:30 pm
April 19th at 7:30 pm