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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Opera Review: Swing Time: The Met does Così

Nathan Gunn and Isabel Leonard share an intimate moment in Così fan tutte
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2010 Metropolitan Opera
Written in 1790, Così fan tutte is the third, and most troublesome child from the creative marriage of Mozart and librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. The story of two soldiers who decide to test the fidelity of their fiancées in order to win a bar bet is not great comic material. The opera's strength is in the emotional performance of its leads, as they go through the "school for lovers" and come out transformed at the work's end. In fact, Così struggled for a century to find its place in the repertory, but with a cast of fine singers, it grows wings and uplifts its audience.

As Ferrando, Pavol Breslik displayed a lyric tenor with a sweet delivery and the ability to float his high notes. Nathan Gunn is a characterful, intelligent baritone and a Mozart regular at the Met. As Gugliemo, one of those rich baritone parts that Mozart wrote so well, Mr. Gunn displayed a wide range of emotions, from amorous seducer to jealous boyfriend as the plot developed. In the key role of Don Alfonso, William Shimell sang with a smallish baritone, commenting philisophically on the events that his wager set in motion. All three men blended well together in their Act I scenes together, and are good comedians.


As their lovers (and targets) Miah Persson made the strongest impression in the role of Fiordiligi. This is the character in the opera whose presence owes to most the the opera seria tradition. She puts up real resistance to Ferrando, producing melting tone and dramatic depth to the key moment when she succumbs to his charms. As her sister Dorabella, mezzo Isabel Leonard has a pleasing instrument. Her Act II duet with Mr. Gunn had warmth and charm, and she was a perfect match for Ms. Persson in the many unision lines sung by the sisters in the first act.

Ever since this production opened in 1996, (making a household name out of Cecilia Bartoli) Cosí at the Met has been anchored by Despina, the sisters' maid. Here, the role was taken by Australian mezzo-soprano Danielle die Niesi. The role of Despina requires more than just pretty singing: it is a bustling comic part with multiple costume chages and much slapstick humor. Ms. die Niesi made the most of the role's comic opportunities, working with and against her employers to maneuver them into romantic misunderstanding.

William Christie made his house debut on the podium. Taking the opera's overture at a brisk pace, Mr. Christie led a rapid-fire performance of the Mozart comedy, allowing the winds and brass to blend with the six voices onstage and drawing transparent textures from the orchestra. His performance made the cavernous theater seem like a much smaller venue, one more appropriate to this intimate comic masterpiece.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.