by Patrick B. McGuigan
Wolfgang Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte, ossia La scuola degli amanti” (Thus Do They All, or The School for Lovrers) came to live in an enjoyable trio of performances last weekend.
In the Petree Theatre at Oklahoma City University, this story was delivered as a kind of studio production – piano accompaniment, simple costumes, no scenery, spare furniture and uniform lighting.
That’s not to say it lacked theatricality.
The quartet of lovers were superb in Sunday’s finale, including Parker Havens as Guglielmo, Chris Mosz as Ferrando, Mary Beth Nelson as Dorabella and Sarah Szeibel as Fiordiligi. They were well supported by Lucas Tarrant’s Don Alfonzo and Shannon Rookey’s spectacular delivery of Despina, the maidservant.
These six performers were uniformly of fine voice, even superb at moments. In terms of acting, they were clever and concrete as they gained the audience’s affable suspension of belief in the roughly two-and-a-half-hour running length of the show.
Don Alfonzo convinces Guglielmo and Ferrando they should put their fiances, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, respectively, to a test of fidelity. The two sisters are most faithful to one another, it seems, yet sincere in love for their intendeds.
The pair of Napoli military officers, convinced the ladies are faithful and true, agree to an awful subtrefuge, triggered after a hefty wager with Alfonzo. He enlists Despina into the sneakiness. The two men are “called up” to military service – but, of course, they are not.
They return to the stage, in a Shakespearian-style plot twist, “disguised” as Albanians visiting Italy. That’s when the plot thickens.
Ferrando sets out to woo Fiordiligi, while Guglielmo sets his sights on Dorabella. The rest of the story unfolds in classic and predictable fashion.
However, from the initial understanding of the two men that they love “women, not angels” through the desperation of the sisters when their ultimate trangressions are revealed, we are drawn into the foibles and follies of breathing human beings – women and men, it seems, much like those we see every day.
Even the maidservant whose betrayal of her ladies is critical to the plot becomes a source of sympathy by story’s end. The sole unsympathetic character is Don Alfonzo, whose cynicism about feminine virtue is soundly ratified.
On the route to denoument, the lovely sounds of Mozart come forth in solos, duets, trios, quartets, quintets and thrilling six-part harmonies. Highlights include the light “Be sure to write me daily,” a prayerful “May breezes blow lightly,” Ferrando’s tender “Love is like a flower,” and the wondrous finales of both acts.
The decision for Ferrando to sing his most notable solo as one who is, in contemporary vernacular, uncertain of his sexual identity seemed anachronistic, and not indicated from the original libretto.
No doubt the six performers who shared the parts for other performances – Evangeline Vournanoz, Lindsey Staib, Julianne Reyholds, Andrew Lyzania, Michael Schaefer and Luke North – were equally deft in bringing this 1790 work to life.
A tip of the reviewer’s Irish cap goes to director Paul Dawson and her assistants Laura Tuttle, Brian Osborne and Megan Barth.
That title can be rendered many ways, and the story is open to multiple interpretations. Are Lorenzo Da Ponte’s words sexist, or even mysogynist? Is it merely cynical and harsh about our fallen human nature – after all, the men also betray their ladies?
Or, is it, perhaps, an appeal to understanding across the gender divide, an appeal to live with forgiving and understanding spirits?
That’s for us to decide, even as modern audieinces still enjoy this story about the humor, twists, bitterness, tenderness and folly of eternal triangles – and quadrangles.
Opera is challenged for survival in the modern era of what can only be termed a brand of unrealistic realism in television and films.
In this production from the Oklahoma City Opera and Music Theater Company, Mozart’s glorious music and Loa Ponte’s Libretto not merely survive, but thrive.