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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 © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Opera Review: Mozart, Occupied

New York Opera Exchange opens a Così on Wall St.
by Paul Pelkonen
Mozart: 18th century anarchist.
Photoshopped by the author.
The New York Opera Exchange is the latest example of a recent surge of small community opera companies that provide a venue for young conservatory singers on the way up. On Sunday evening at the Church of the Covenant, the NYOX offered the fourth and final performance of its first full opera production: Mozart's Così fan tutte.

Director Cameron Marcotte presented a reworked and updated version of this comedy, moving the action to Wall Street, specifically in the year 2011 as the canyons of lower Manhattan echoed with the clatter of percussion and the crunch of police batons. Here, the whole cast become employees of Don Alfonso, whose cynical nature fits his new role as a Wall Street CEO.

In Mr. Marcotte's update. Ferrando (Jeffery Taveras) and Gugliemo (Joseph Beckwith) are would-be masters of the universe, junior analysts at Don Alfonso's corporation. The Don (Jason Cox) sexually harasses Despina and thinks that all of his employees are idiots.

He might be right.

Mr. Marcotte rewrote the libretto as spoken dialogue in English, with arias and ensembles sung in Italian. His update uses contemporary slang expressions. Props include MacBook Pros, iPhones and iPads. The two young men made their bet with Don Alfonso while working out at a gym. Starbucks was a featured location. (Not Così®?) The girls express despair through Tumblr and texting. And the two would-be Occupiers take poison by drinking window-cleaner. Luckily Despina (disguised as a cleaning lady) has the antidote in a handy spray bottle.

Mr. Marcotte's new dialogue skewers Fiordiligi (Rebecca Shorstein) and Dorabella (Kate Wiswell) as particularly vapid. Here, they are sorority sisters (or as Despina puts it, "interns with trust funds") working at the same firm. Despina (Natasha Nelson) is their put-upon administrative assistant. The two fellas are suddenly "transferred to China." They disguise themselves, not as "Albanians" but as hipster dudes from the Occupy movement, hailing from a foreign land called "Brooklyn." 

The climactic wedding is drastically altered here, in keeping with the light nature and social media humor of this staging. (The marriage contract of the libretto is now the girls' decisions to change the "relationship status" on their Facebook accounts. By keeping the opera as a matter of office politics, Mr. Marcotte dulled the edge of Da Ponte's satire, but made the bitter second half of this comedy a much more appealing experience. 

This young cast was appealing and energetic, despite the live sound in the aging plaster-walled auditorium. Ms. Shorstein was a standout as Fiordiligi, navigating the choppy intervals of "Come scoglio" with only one missed note. Mr. Tavares and Mr. Beckwith were an engaging pair of disguised dudes. Mr. Cox has a potent, resonant baritone and a sly manner that suit the conniving Don Alonso perfectly. Finally, Natasha Nelson was a replacement Despina, a charming actress with an agile instrument, a perfect partner in crime.

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