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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.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Opera Review: Mozart Before the Wrecking Ball

LoftOpera tackles Cosí fan tutte.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Sisters are doin' it for themselves: Dorabella (Sarah Nelson Craft) and Fiordiligi (Megan Pachecano)
in a scene fron LoftOpera's Cosí fan tutte. Photo by Robert Altman © 2016 LoftOpera
The dark, shadowy streets where Williamsburg abets Bushwick are deserted at night. That is, unless you count the musicians, patrons and Mozarteans who flocked to last night's opening of LoftOpera's latest production. This new staging of Mozart's Cosí fan tutte occupied one quarter of an enormous old warehouse at 101 Varick Avenue, a desolate property that is scheduled for sale, demolition and redevelopment in the near future.

LoftOpera's business model is simple: minimal comfort (the opera-goers sit on hard, flat benches) readily available beer (Brooklyn Brewery is a sponsor) and a spare approach to staging classic works in unusual settings. For this Cosí, director Louisa Proske hose a long "runway" stage with the orchestra on the other side of it from the audience. This helped balance the sound in the tricky space although conductor Dean Buck and his slightly reduced ensemble were forced to compete with the clink of rolling beer bottles and the grunts and rumbles of  garbage trucks working the solid waste management facility next door.

Of the three collaborations between composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Cosí is the least performed and the hardest to bring off. The story is a comedy about two soldiers who make a bet with the scholar Don Alfonso (Gary Ramsey) that their sweethearts will be faithful under all circumstances. To win his bet, the Don has the two fellows disguise themselves and chase each other's beloveds. Eventually, both succeed in their new seductionsm and the opera ends on a question mark, with a chorus that praises reason above all other things.

The costumes reflected the Brooklyn location by positioning its characters squarely in the 1980s. Fiordiligi (Megan Pachecano) and Dorabella (Sarah Nelson Craft) lounged in old rock t-shirts, did yoga and read Tiger Beat. Ferrando (Spencer Viator) and Gugliemo (Alex DeSocio) appeared first as preppy college kids and then (with fake mustaches) in shiny suits and cheap ties that looked like they came from the discount racks at Century 21. The maid Despina (Michelle Trovato) even she appeared as "Dr. Z", a nod to the late subway dermatologist who was known to New Yorkers through his ever-present advertisements.

Mr. Viator and Mr. DeSocio impressed as the two comrades who find themselves unwitting students in Don Alfonso's "school for lovers." By turns enthusiastic, bemused, impassioned and enraged, they played Ferrando and Gugliemo as sides of the same coin, whose gains from this emotional torture test may be minimal. Mr. Viator had a fine, vibrant tenor with a rapier-like point at its very top. Mr. DeSocio's bluff good nature turned quickly to jealous rage, showing a singer of good dramatic and vocal range.

Ms. Pachecano's small, icy soprano struggled in her upper register and missed the first big note in Fiordiligi's Act I aria, but she melted in the second act as her love affair with Ferrando blossomed. Sarah Nelson Craft was far better, playing Dorabella as the smarter and more sympathetic of the two sisters. Her pliant mezzo turned passionate, and she was more convincing in her transition to love with a new partner. Only the misogynistic ending soured things a little as the two comrades took their original partners back, an ending that always feels like the librettist's cop-out.

As Alfonso, who instigates this mess for financial gain, Mr. Ramsay was strong in his ensemble scenes and handsome. His character went from professorial to David Bowie glam, taking advantage of his slight resemblence to the late rock singer with his height and bearing. Ms. Trovato gave a credible turn as Despina, the Figaro-like trickster employed as Alfonso's catspaw. She kept her head through a whirlwind of plot shifts and costume changes and turning to allow a wry comment or two to slip to the audience.

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