A Comic Mozart Romp for Dark Times

A Tuneful Cosi fan tutte Wows

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[l-r] Andrey Zhilikhovsky (baritone), Ana Maria Martinez (soprano), Kang Wang (tenor) in Cosi fan tutte. Photo by Scott Suchman

Is the fairer sex romantically fickle? Provoked by their elderly mentor Don Alfonso, two gallants, Ferrando and Guglielmo, place a bet on the constancy of their lovers, Dorabella and Fioriligi. So, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s farcical romp Cosi fan tutti commences.

The Washington National Opera’s (WNO) delicious production of this classic comic opera is the perfect antidote to the uncertainties of a post pandemic age in which the drums of war sound so loudly

Placing themselves in the hands of the conniving Don Alfonso, the young officers agree to follow all his byzantine dictates to the letter. Presenting their lovers with necklaces, symbolizing their affections, they pretend to answer their call of duty in a distant war. Thus, the stage is set for Don Alfonso’s mischievous machinations.

Don Alfonso disguises his two gallants as Albanian nobles and dispatches them to woo each other’s sweethearts. Their efforts are initially rebuffed. Regrouping, Don Alfonso enlists the aid of their vivacious maid Despina, who possesses decidedly ‘Tinderesque’ take on romance. The Albanians are ha ndsome, loaded and available, she tells her charges. Why should the hens turn down a delicious dalliance while the foxes are away at war?

In a series of delightful scenarios, aided by the cynical Don Alfonso and vivacious Despina, the constant attentions of the fake Albanians erode the constancy first of Fioriligi and later Dorabella. Both fall in love with their friend’s original suitor, losing their symbolic romantic tokens in the process. As in every comic opera, all is revealed in the finale, when the couples marry their opposites rather than their original lovers.

While the master-Mozart always manages to enthrall this reviewer, the new WNO production is a standout due to a combination of the artistry of its cast.

Led by mezzo-soprano, Tunisian-born, Rihab Chaieb in the role of Dorabella and Australian-Chinese tenor Kang Wang in the role of Ferrando, Mozart’s melodies sing. They are assisted by the skillful comic timing of Ana Maria Martinez as Despina and Ferruccio Fulanetto as Don Alfonso. Fulanetto’s facial expressions provide a delightful cynical commentary on the escapades of the lovers. While Martinez’s rousing rendition of the aria, “In uomini, in oldati,” was the perfect sarcastic assessment of male constancy.

This writer’s favorite moment in the production was the famous aria “Come scoglio immoto rest.” Here, Fiordiligi, talented soprano Laura Wilde, rejects the attentions of her disguised suitor Guglielmo, baritone Andret Zhilikhosky (Translation courtesy of Marc Verzatt):

As a rock, remaining motionless
against the winds and tempest,
yet like this, is this soul strong
in faith and in love.

With us is born that torch
which pleases and consoles us,
and death alone will be able
to change the feeling of (our) the heart.

Respect, ungrateful souls
this paragon of constancy,
And may a barbarous hope
not make you bold again!

Wilde owns the part, her voice and beauty dominating the stage.

The able conducting of Erina Yashima compliments the cast’s skills. Unfortunately, the orchestra is positioned to the back of the theater behind a screen, which mutes its base somewhat.

The talents of the WNO’s standout cast is enhanced by the production’s stylistics, which juxtapose traditional period costumes against a modernist set. The stage’s backdrop is constructed of vast movie screens which simultaneously obscure the orchestra and frame the drama.

Watch the audience giggle as the a massive, Monty Python style, Hand of God places a piece of scenery. Such whimsy incorporating a modern sensibility permits the director to turn the set itself into a comic commentary on the plot it frames. Sort of a Shakespearean play within a play. This author has never scene such a technique employed in opera.

Distressed by Ukraine? Anxious to reemerge from the isolation of the pandemic? Got the winter blues? Take this writer’s prescription and buy a ticket to the best comic romp in town, the WNO’s Cosi fan tutte.

Andrew Lightman is the Managing Editor of Capital Community News. He firmly believes the curative power of live music and theater.