CONSIDERED OPINION OF THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA CONCERT OF 2 MARCH 2010
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Così fan tutte (Malin Hartelius, Fiordiligi; Anna Bonitatibus, Dorabella; Ruben Drole, Guglielmo; Javier Camarena, Ferrando; Martina Janková, Despina; Antonio Abete, Don Alfonso; Enrico Cacciari, fp; Cleveland Orchestra Opera Chorus; Franz Welser-Möst, cond.)
At stage center, a large shelving unit. Some of its twenty compartments are used to display butterflies neatly mounted under glass. Some offer samples of the taxidermist's art: birds preserved in a variety of different attitudes. Still others contain what appear, at least from a distance, to be archaeological artifacts. In short, a cabinet of curiosities—a sure sign that someone of a scientific disposition is in the vicinity.
Such is the scene that greets you when you enter Severance Hall for the Cleveland Orchestra's presentation of Mozart's Così fan tutte. And Don Alfonso, the resident philosopher in the opera's world, is indeed something of a scientist, toying with human beings as if they're rats in his lab. There's a distinctly sinister side to this production's Don Alfonso, and it's only partly the result of the dark glasses behind which he hides. Bass-baritone Antonio Abete gives the character an air of smoldering anger—a reminder that science, reason, and philosophy are not always the pristine, disinterested affairs we'd like them to be.
Abete's prickly Don Alfonso is just one of the many attractions of the Cleveland Orchestra Così. There's Franz Welser-Möst's alert, animated, carefully nuanced conducting, for example. Malin Hartelius and Anna Bonitatibus, the production's Fiordiligi and Dorabella, are a well-matched pair of female leads. The crystalline clarity of Bonitatibus' voice both contrasts and blends with the complex colors of Hartelius' singing. Tenor Javier Camarena's version of Ferrando's aria "Tradito, schernito" adroitly traverses a wide expressive range, while Ruben Drole displays vocal power and finesse as Guglielmo. Martina Janková's Despina is winningly youthful, her cynicism recognizably overlaid on a core of both exuberance and naïveté.
Sven-Eric Bechtolf's production, realized in conjunction with stage director Timo Schlüssel, generally keeps to the story's original eighteenth-century setting. The comedy is played quite broadly. Though plenty of audience merriment ensues, the zaniness sometimes detracts from the opera's overall effect. Fiordiligi's farcical attempts at suicide divert attention from Dorabella's aria "Smanie implacabili." And Ferrando and Guglielmo's exaggerated, lewd gyrations during "Non siate ritrosi" cast serious doubt on the sanity of the girls who will shortly be in love with them. But despite conspicuous quirks that include a grim final twist, this production often illuminates Così in interesting and subtle ways. After an hour dominated by strikingly symmetrical visual tableaux, Ferrando sings "Un'aura amorosa" sitting at one end of a row of empty chairs. Suddenly, you're aware of balances shifting, of emotional equilibria being nudged irretrievably awry.
"In vain I tried to resist," Dorabella tells Despina after finally giving in to the disguised Guglielmo's advances. Like Guglielmo, the Cleveland Orchestra Così indulges in a few odd gyrations. But in the end you're likely to fall for the charms of this beautifully sung, intelligently conducted production.
I'm Jerome Crossley for WCLV 104/9.
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