COSÌ FAN TUTTI. Opera buffa by Wolfgang Mozart, libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. Cast: Cecilia Violetta López (Fiordiligi), soprano; Sarah Nordin (Dorabella), mezzo soprano; Cody Austin (Ferrando), tenor; Gabriel Preisser (Guglielmo), baritone; Eileen Vanessa Rodriguez (Despina), soprano; Won Cho (Don Alphonso), bass Baritone. Artistic director and conductor: Daniel Lipton. Produced by Opera Tampa. Venu: The Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
If you have never seen an opera before, you could do no better than to take in Così fan tutti. Well, that’s not exactly true. You could easily equal that experience by seeing Don Giovanni or The Marriage of Figaro, the other two operas created by the fortunate pairing of composer Wolfgang Mozart and the librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. All three are virtually equal in their musical genius and expert storytelling. In fact, critics have been divided for centuries on which is the “best.”
It doesn’t matter. In my opinion, last night’s performance of Così fan tutti is the best entertainment you could have experienced in the whole of Tampa Bay. It is energetic, tuneful, touching, and yes, very very funny.
Two soldiers (most likely officers), Ferrando and Guglielmo, test the fidelity of their fiancés (sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella) by disguising themselves as Albanian suitors. The women not only fail, but each decides to marry the other man, not their original beau. The test is revealed and they are forgiven; everyone lives happily every after. Or do they? (The opera never says.)
Unlike other comic opera plots (most from the 19th century), this one is not all comedy. In many ways, it is actually profound. In the words of the world-weary instigator Don Alphonso (the Enlightenment cynic so well played by Won Cho), the central trick turns out to be “a deception to undeceive you lovers.” It exposes the fact that the most cherished relationships in the world can be fragile and thus shines a harsh light on our vulnerabilities.
But enough grim talk. This production of Così is eminently enjoyable all of the time, and not just because of its brilliant music, with its shifting key changes, startling rivulets of tempos, and ultra-lovely lyricism. The artistic director Daniel Lipton has encouraged the singers to truly act in ways that make audiences laugh, and so it did. For example, Eileen Vanessa Rodriguez as the maid Despina is quite expressive in her movements as she espouses her homemade wisdom about the ways of love. She’s also very silly in her reedy voice interpretation of “the doctor” and “the notary.” And when Cody Austin as Ferrando and Gabriel Preisser as Guglielmo are pretending to be writhing in the grips of poisoning, they kick their legs comically. One even does the floor-spinning routine made famous by comedian Curly Howard of the Three Stooges. Nice touch. The whole opera moves so quickly with inventive staging and scurrying about that you can easily miss something if you’re not paying attention. (At one point, someone deliberately knocks over a plant, but another soon makes a big deal out of righting it.)
But ah, the music: Eternally magnificent. Rodriguez sings Despina’s signature aria “Una donna a quindici anni” (“A fifteen year old woman”) with arch worldliness and spotless timing. Dorabella and Guglielmo woo each other with a poignant duet (“Il core vi dono”) in a scene that’s actually quite sexy. Their voices blend well in this tender scene, where there is no upstaging or grandstanding to be had.
Shortly afterwards, a conflicted Fiordiligi sings a deeply expressive aria (“Per pietà, ben mio”) accompanied by an opera seria formality of slightly off-key horns. There is sheer Mozartean musicality at work here, one that eloquently articulates her despair as she asks her absent lover’s forgiveness. It is López’s most touching aria and she handles it well. She seems more comfortable in the upper ranges, where she is most expressive.
This is what sets Mozart’s operas apart from the bonbon triviality of Rossini’s opera buffas like Il barbiere di Siviglia – emotional depth enveloped in a dazzling cloak of comedy. His operas are never just musical slapstick. I could go on about each of this performance’s well-executed arias, as well as express regrets that they were necessary cuts made so the audience would arrive home at 11 PM rather than midnight, but that’s not the point here. Instead, I am encouraging you to just go. Don’t even think about drive time, cost, or the time investment. Just get your tickets for the final performance happening tomorrow. You will remember it for a long while.