D.C. opera ends season with fine 'Cosi'

March 14, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The Washington Opera has had a very good season, the last to be booked by its former executive director, Martin Feinstein. And the company's final production Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte," which opened last week and resumes tonight at 8 through March 24 seems the finest work it has done this year: a nearly perfect production of one of the most beautiful of operas.

Some composers may be judged to represent different aspects of the human experience: Beethoven is about heroism; Wagner is about sex; Richard Strauss is about nostalgia. But Mozart no where more than in "Cosi" is about human error and (if Alexander Pope were correct about what the act of forgiveness means) divinity.

In "Cosi," two sets of lovers mistake the strength of human impulses for the steadfastness of faith, learn from that mistake and are forgiven for it. It is an opera in which Mozart's music acts with the beneficence we would like to ascribe to providence.

This production is a revival of the famous one that the late Jean-Pierre Ponelle designed in 1983. The set is filled with Palladian elegance and simplicity of the sort that neoclassical thinkers such as Jefferson (and Mozart) enjoyed: a world of gracious gardens and pillars.

It has an almost human dimension that John McLain's expressive lighting often emphasizes beautifully during, for example, the lovers' leave-taking and the extraordinarily affecting trio Mozart wrote for two sopranos and bass in the scene.

The intelligent cast, however, was chiefly responsible for this sane, caring "Cosi."

Pamela Coburn was an incisive and fluent Fiordiligi, and Delores Ziegler's nicely sung Dorabella interestingly substituted sloe-eyed indolence and sensuality for the usual impulsiveness.

As the two lovers, Richard Croft sang the tenor part of Ferrando with unforced lyricism, and Andrew Schroeder was an absolutely terrific Guglielmo handsome of face and voice and musically witty.

As the saucy Despina, Jan Grissom continued to demonstrate that she is among the most memorable soubrettes around: She has a quicksilver voice well-suited to coloratura, a sexy stage presence and comedic gifts that include a splendid talent for impersonations.

The Don Alfonso was Paolo Montarsolo. The days when this veteran basso could sing the Act I trio with ideally sustained legato beauty are over, but he still sings well enough and his voice was always in the service of musical and dramatic intelligence of the highest order.

Conductor Richard Bradshaw led the orchestra in a sympathetic, natural-sounding performance, and the Washington Opera Chorus made solid contributions to the big ensembles.

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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