Angela Allen

Portland, Oregon
Keller Auditorium
2/5/2010 and Feb. 7, 11 and 13
Wofgang Amadeus Mozart: Cosi fan Tutti

PORTLAND—Mozart’s music, as singers say, is medicine for the voice. Light, lyric, and a century ahead of its time with its compositional cohesiveness, the maestro’s melodies shaped a full-throttle comedic “Cosi” in Portland.

As well, the piece provided medicine for the heart for the most cynical, for the least schooled in opera (and love), and for witnesses of many Mozart productions. What a well-timed Valentine’s present to the rainy mid-winter Northwest!

The audience fully engaged with the sublime music; Shakespeare-like twists and turns; and superlatively balanced cast. Laughter hung in the air.

The opera’s six main voices blended in the story or “school” of love and lust. The subtitle of “Cosi fan Tutti” (translated as “All Women Are Like That”) is the “school of love.” The story has a moral: Love is not as simple as it looks.

Cosi (1790) is the least performed of late 18th-century da Ponte-Mozart collaboration that includes Don Giovanni (1787) and The Marriage of Figaro (1786). When well performed, as this production most pronouncedly is, Cosi captures the hearts of opera neophytes and aficionados alike.

Hometown mezzo-soprano Angela Niederloh (Dorabella) and soprano Lauren Skuce as big sister Fiordiligi fashioned the first positive chemical reaction. Scurrying about in their fresh green shirtwaists and naïve notions of love, the two are stage sisters, their voices blending as well as their expressive acting. (Lots of singing occurs when the sisters recline, so projection is a big value. Skuce pulls it off better than Niederloh.)

Add to the tuneful mix tenor Ryan MacPherson as Ferrando and the hunky baritone Keith Phares as the boyish Guglielmo. The goofy suitors strengthen the good chemistry. MacPherson proves himself an attention-getting tenor and comic and Phares is no slouch at singing and theatrics.

Don Alfonso is sung by theatrical baritone Robert Orth, a veteran of light opera. He matches up with Christine Brandes’ high-energy Despina (she must be versatile to play maid, seasoned and jilted lover, phony doctor, nagging notary, advice-giver and conspirator). The middle-aged soul mates keep up the momentum. They often steal the show from the handsome sets of younger lovers.

If you closed your eyes and listened, you would like this production, thanks to Mozart’s music conducted by George Manahan’s light and lively hand. But with well-directed opera, there is so much more to take in aside from the music.

The sets, for one.

The first act’s jewel-box set encapsulating the sisters splits into a hall of angles in the second act when things grow knotty between the lovers. The first set captures the sisters’ cloistered life and girlish expectations. It echoes post-World War II ebullience and optimism when shopping and silk stockings and stylish pastel dresses lightened up the grimness of the former years.

But things get complicated.

It only takes Fiordiligi’s “Per Pieta” in Act Two, where the principals trade off harmonious arias, to see that “Cosi” accomplishes far more than comedy. Mozart exposes the chaos and intricacy of the human heart. Most of us have participated in love’s unpredictable story, whether betrayed, disappointed, enthralled, thrilled, heart-broken. The music brings us to the universality and timelessness of those emotions.

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