COSÌ FAN TUTTE
31/05/2023 - 04/06/2023
14/06/2023 - 18/06/2023
28/06/2023 - 02/07/2023
Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Librettist: Lorenzo da Ponte
Director: Lindy Hume
Conductor/Musical Director: Natalie Murray Beale
New Zealand Opera
New Zealand Opera presents Così fan tutte
by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte
Quirky farce, romantic tragicomedy, philosophical treatise on the nature of young love – Mozart’s sublime and enduring classic opera Così fan tutte is all that and more. A satirical love story that takes a wry look at men and women against a backdrop of disguises, false goodbyes, and deceptions.
Any opera that translates broadly as: “All women are like that!” must be fertile territory for a female-led creative team to bring a fresh lens to this popular opera. Underpinning all of this is Mozart’s beautiful score – perhaps his most radiant of all.
Featuring the NZ Opera Chorus and a cast of international and New Zealand opera stars, including Emma Pearson, Hanna Hipp, Julien Van Mellaerts, Jonathan Abernethy, Georgia Jamieson Emms and Robert Tucker, this brand new, sumptuous production is brought to life by a powerhouse creative team of top Antipodean talent.
with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
31 May & 2 June 2023, 7.30pm,
4 June 2023, 2.30pm
Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, Aotea Centre
with Orchestra Wellington
14 & 16 June 2023, 7.30pm,
18 June 2023, 2.30pm
St James Theatre
with Christchurch Symphony Orchestra
28 & 30 June 2023, 7.30pm,
2 July 2023, 2.30pm
Isaac Theatre Royal
Tickets and more details www.nzopera.com
Fiordiligi: Emma Pearson
Dorabella: Hanna Hipp
Guglielmo: Julien Van Mellaerts
Ferrando: Jonathan Abernethy
Despina: Georgia Jamieson Emms
Don Alfonso: Andrew Foster-Williams
with the NZ Opera Chorus
Set & Costume Designer (Scenographer): Tracy Grant Lord
Lighting Designer: Matthew Marshall
Assistant Director: Matthew Kereama
Principal Répétiteur and Continuo: David Kelly
Comic Opera , Theatre , Theatre Marae ,
Directorial insight and superbly balanced singing delivered with confidence and relish
Review by Tim Jones 29th Jun 2023
Is Così Fan Tutte a problem opera? For years it languished, performed far less frequently than its creators’ other two masterpieces and it has returned to the centre of the repertoire in the last, say, 50 years just when, we like to think, we have all become more sensitive and less willing to tolerate sexism in real life or on stage. This paradox remains squarely before us, the audience, and, to judge from the director’s programme notes, squarely before her too.
A frankly feminist reading of Così is surely an impossibility, so one explanation of its power and popularity and perhaps a partial resolution of that paradox, is the deep humanity that a strong production such as this one can draw on. I have always thought the sextet in this show were pantomime stock characters, with the saving grace that they sing glorious music. But director Lindy Hume manages to elevate them to something approaching fully rounded characters.
It may not be Shakespeare but here at last are six people, three of each gender, who are all confused, conflicted, cruel and credulous to varying degrees. The behaviour of each is appalling but believable. The resolution of the plot does remain a problem but, until that point, we see human nature laid bare, unattractive and unappealing. If that makes it a problem opera, then so be it: human nature is, we know, the problem.
Combine this directorial insight with some very fine singing and you have quite a production. With such a small cast, balance is everything and these six singers are superbly balanced. Every voice is distinct and characterful, with individual timbres, and yet working together splendidly in the all the big set piece duets, trios–and upwards from there.
I could not single out any of the four lovers for special praise so integrated is their presentation. Emma Pearson, Hanna Hipp, Julien van Mellaerts and Jonathan Abernethy work simply magnificently as a team
The aloof, almost voyeuristic Don Alfonso of Andrew Foster-Williams is especially clever. I have seen productions where Don Alfonso tears about like a mad conductor, organizing and directing the other characters. Here he stands apart watchfully, giving a nudge or a suggestion here and there, but almost allowing the quartet of lovers to make their own ghastly decisions. His steady examination of the set during a curtain-up overture is a nice touch.
Despina in the hands of Georgia Jamieson Emms is less ludicrous than I have known. Cynical of course but by no means ridiculous even when in disguise.
There is a lot of stage business to engage the eye in this production and most of it works well. The cast and crew handle the complex revolving set with absolute confidence and it simplifies and reinforces the action, rather than muddling it, as, at first glance, it might. In the pit the CSO embraces the conductor’s cracking pace with apparent relish.
So if this is a problem opera, let us have more of it!
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Sparkling, sophisticated artifice
Review by Elizabeth Kerr 19th Jun 2023
Mozart’s popular comic opera Così fan tutte, his third collaboration with librettist da Ponte, is like a game designed to puzzle and confuse both characters and audience. Its subtitle – The School for Lovers – might provide a clue? Ultimately, perhaps the lesson we all learn amongst all the glorious singing is not that of the title, usually translated as “All women are like that”, but a world-weary view of the frailty of love itself, taught by the cynical Don Alfonso.
In this production by New Zealand Opera, the overture is played with the curtain raised on a contemporary scene. Don Alfonso (bass Andrew Foster-Williams) strolls on, checking out the set and audience and peering suspiciously into the orchestral pit. His demeanour is that of a maître d’ and the setting is indeed a ritzy modern restaurant, complete with sparkling cocktail bar. [More]
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A triumph not to be missed
Review by Roger Wilson 16th Jun 2023
Così fan tutte is widely considered Mozart’s most perfect opera musically with its symmetry and exquisite ensembles. It is also the most elusive.
On the face of it Da Ponte’s libretto is a cynical tale of the inconstancy of women with plenty of knock-around humour, outlandish disguises, stock buffo figures like a quack doctor and a doddering lawyer. Lots of laughs, some rueful lessons learned, all is forgiven, the world is restored to what it was.
But the work is far more serious and complex than it might at seem. [More]
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A clever, beautifully balanced confection, both crisp and sweet
Review by Michael Hooper 02nd Jun 2023
The Mozart chocolate bonbon originates in Salzburg, the composer’s birthplace. It consists of marzipan, nougat, and pistachio, enrobed in chocolate. I am pleased to report that the Auckland opening of Cosi Fan Tutte delivers a delicious confection of operatic ganache with panache; a melody marzipan with nuggets of sweet bite-sized arias and easily digested recitatives, characters that are more than a little nuts, and a flowing river of silky woodwinds all napped neatly in a crisp couverture of glossy theatre.
The Auckland audience immediately warms to the clever, light, bright Tracy Grant Lord set that features a tall, modern clubby bar mirroring The Churchill gin lounge at the top of the Sheraton Four Points, just a glass brick’s throw across Aotea Square.
The first character we meet is Despina, the all-knowing soubrette, as a barmaid boasting a bird’s nest, bouffant hairstyle immediately recalling one of the city’s famous fashionistas and stalwart of the bar club scene of the eighties. Wellington soprano and multi-talented performer Georgia Jamieson Emms energetically takes on this pivotal role, bringing to bear her considerable cabaret, musical theatre and acting skills.
Brechtian director Lindy Hume’s hanging lights add altitude to the four-metre high set, over which float ten orbs with a mind of their own, creamy bonbons that change colour and elevation to tune the visual mood. All this centred on a skirtless revolve, with barn-door theatre spotlights padding out a pastel set into the darkened wings, filling the dual roles of underscoring theatricality and allowing easy adaptation for the smaller stages further south. “Our set looks like a sound stage,” explains assistant director Matthew Kereama in his pre-show talk, and a little (unscheduled?) smoky blowing of two lamp bulbs in Act 1 just adds authenticity to that allusion.
This contemporary setting thrusts to centre stage the oft-asked question of the misogyny of the title and plot, where “all women are the same” and its suitability as a 21st century theme. The two air-head sisters that we soon meet going through their social media in a city pad are clearly not reflective of the time the libretto was launched in 1790, but portray an enduring comic staple which Lindy Hume reminds us still exists in Patsy and Edwina, or in the embarrassing discomfort of Basil Fawlty. Tracy Grant Lord sums up the action brilliantly, in explaining her design: “A world of controlled contemporary order that transforms, in an apparently uncontrolled way, towards a sensual chaos, overseen by a manipulative hand.”
The subtitle of the opera is The School for Lovers, and club louche Don Alfonso wants to teach a lesson to his two young men friends Ferrando and Guglielmo, with whom he bets a hundred sequins (gold coins) that their fiancées, the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, will stray – given a chance. As part of the plan, the men ostensibly answer a call to join the military, however they return in (most) unlikely disguises to woo each other’s intended. The outcome will be the decider of the wager. The Don warns, “He who builds his hopes on a woman’s heart ploughs the sea and sows on sand, and hopes to snare the wild wind in a net.” It sounds as if we could be in for a wild ride!
Librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte prescribes that the boys dress-up as “Albanians” with luxuriant moustaches, surely a metaphor for testosterone. In this production they are Turks or “Wallachian” (Romanian) hippies with faces “both charming and alarming”, here resembling a Deppish Caribbean pirate and a Caravaggian cavalier with “plaintive accents”. Not to be left out of the masquerade, Despina poses as a pantomime Mesmerian quack, and then as a rambling notary. None of it is believable, and it need not be.
Conductor Natalie Murray Beale poses an interesting question, suggesting that constancy and change co-exist, and, further, that we all play roles that we define by our appearance. She conjectures that performers may become “more powerful, unbridled, freer” when they don their costumes or performance attire, and perhaps we are the same. This goes some way towards intellectualising the disbelief we feel as we consider this flimsy plot, but then so many popular operas have lasted because the composer never let the story get in the way of amazing music.
This ‘opera buffa’ is in two acts. Following The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, the precocious, mercurial Mozart gives us the style and subtlety that developed in his later career. Even though the music appears simple, even playful practically throughout, the vocal quilt is complex, with overlapping, counterpointing, multi-faceted harmonies and most tuneful arias, no better illustrated than in the musically rich conclusion to Act 1. The libretto is beautifully balanced with the score, leaving spaces for the lithesome music to shine through quite naturally, like autumn’s late afternoon rays beaming through the clouds.
Auckland Philharmonia’s forty-odd musicians never fail to cohere under the sound direction of Maestra Beale, with the woodwinds playing meltingly well. From the opening oboe solo to the liquid lyricism of the clarinet we are seduced by the beauty of the score and its performance.
Essentially, six singers are the cast, with the twenty-four-strong chorus making only brief appearances. One of these is in the aisles where, like cruise ship waiters, they spin napkins overhead as they enter, singing lustily of lighting the torches and preparing the table. In Act 2 they wear animal headdresses, as the set separates masterfully to create a lush garden of love, a colour-saturated Neverland.
Soprano Emma Pearson (the eponymous bride in NZO’s Semele in 2020) sings Fiordiligi. Her agile aria ‘Come Scoria (Like a Rock)’ shows her sure power in the high notes, and she brings a sense of parody that Mozart would surely enjoy, while there is assured delicacy in ‘Per pietà, ben mio, perdona (In pity’s name, my dearest, forgive)’. It is a moving and powerful aria.
Her fiancée Guglielmo, is played by lauded, sometimes Italianate baritone Julien Van Mallearts, who sparked as Shaunard in the Jacque Coats’ 2018 NZO production of La Bohème and evidently sang a formidable Figaro in Salzburg. He is strong in projecting his character and happily uses the whole stage, addressing one of the potential issues with this opera – it has the least “action” of the trio of Da Ponte / Mozart collaborations, and a kinetic and creative use of the space is a must.
The other male, Ferrando, is played by Frankfurt-based Kiwi tenor Jonathan Abernethy, whose aria in Scene 12, ‘Un’aura amorosa (a breath of love)’,is wonderfully fluid and textured, with the high G and even A no trouble at all.
Polish lyrical mezzo-soprano Hannah Hipp is Dorabella, the leader of the two sisters, a role she debuted with Seattle Opera. Her English performance of the role was reviewed in March last year by The Guardian, which stated that she “develops deliciously from frosty to flirty” singing with “punch and grace”. We see this as she seizes the stage in her Act 1 aria ‘È amore un ladroncello (Love is a little thief)’ and charms in the second act trio ‘Soave sia il vento (Gentle be the breeze)’.
Ringmaster Don Alfonso is well played by Mancunian bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams in a somewhat detached school-masterly way. His character often stands outside the action, as a ringmaster and collaborator with Despina manipulating the other characters.
That leaves the role with which I am most intrigued. Despina shares the DNA of Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro and Leporello in Don Giovanni. As co-driver of the action, her busy character is the distillation of the work’s production ethos, and some directors have shown almost alarming creativity in moulding the role. In the slick setting of this classy production, Miss Emms slips nimbly from dramatic task to task, brings life to the recitatives, and is our omniscient guide through the chaos. In a slight adaptation of the text, she is “whipping the cappuccino for half an hour”, before transforming the espresso into a cocktail, delivered to the girls on the floor. This is fun and the audience loves the modern relevance of the character, and the concept.
In the face of all this superficiality, director Lindy Hume tries to persuade us that the 18th century inconstancy and flippancy of the characters is an invitation to consider the gaining of self-knowledge in life’s progress and to uphold human empathy, even in the face of the absurd. To quote Emma Pearson in a Stuff interview earlier this year, “Well-behaved women seldom made history,” and this female-led creative team relish playing with the women’s stage naughtiness.
The New Zealand principals reveal how our homegrown opera talent has blossomed onto the world stages, exemplified by Benson Wilson and Amitai Pati in the English National Opera production of Cosi just over a year ago. Uncut, Cosi can run to around four hours, and this show occupies just over three. That is enough for a modern audience, susceptible to attention lapse from too many notes, and the requisite editing is judicious.
This is a clever, beautifully balanced confection, both crisp and sweet, oozing with some of Mozart’s most mellifluous music, played, sung, designed and produced to perfection. Matt Marshall’s lighting is digitally precise and well-conceived, and I must comment on the clarity and luminance of the surtitles at the Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre.
As we head to the conclusion, Despina asks the men about her mischievous mahi: “Are you contented?” I can only respond as they do, with the word “contentissimi”. This Cosi will warm you wonderfully, like a goblet of Viennese hot chocolate.
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