`Cosi fan tutte' has beautiful voices, style, depth

Review

April 05, 2001|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A successful performance of a Mozart opera requires three things: beautiful, yet agile voices; stylish presentation; and the expressive depth to move from comedy to the most achingly gorgeous melodies ever written - and back again - at a moment's notice.

A tall order. But I saw all this and more at last weekend's Annapolis Opera production of Mozart's sparkling "Cosi fan tutte."

Beautiful, agile voices could be heard all over the Maryland Hall stage.

Soprano Angela Fout and lyric mezzo Lori Hultgren were delights to the ear as Fiordiligi and Dorabella, the sisters engaged to pair of young men brought to life under Braxton Peters' stage direction as a pair of 19th-century midshipmen at the Naval Academy.

Fout, a Juilliard graduate who won last year's Annapolis Opera Vocal Competition in a walk, gave us an assertive but lovely "Come scoglio" in Act I as she mixed registers with a flourish and reveled in the charm of the lilting melody Mozart reprised from the Kyrie of his "Coronation Mass."

The soprano has garnered a host of national and international honors, and it's not hard to see why. When she overcomes her tendency to become shrill as she crescendos into her cadences, she'll be a formidable Mozartean.

Fout was matched note for note and scene for scene by Hultgren, who used her seamless mezzo voice and flair for comedy to produce a deliciously flirtatious Dorabella.

Whether in sadness (her Act I lament as Ferrando, her intended, pretends to leave her) or in giddiness (her flirtation with Guglielmo, Ferrando's friend and co-conspirator in the ruse at the center of the plot), Hultgren was a delight.

The male energy was much in evidence, too.

In his Annapolis Opera debut, tenor Richard Crawley gave a fine account of Ferrando - heroic, yet in total control in his opening "Una bella serenata," and attractively lyrical in the lovely "Un' aura amorosa." Impressive, to say the least.

As Guglielmo, baritone Arturo Chacon was never less than mellifluous and stylish, but his Act II commentary on the fickleness of women sounded underpowered in comparison to what came before and after. The young Costa Rican was exceptional in the ensemble arias, but at this point in his career, he's more of a work in progress than his three co-stars.

For stylish presentation, we need look no further than the blend of elegance and deviousness whipped up by bass Robert Cantrell to create Don Alfonso, the expert on human nature whose wager with Ferrando and Guglielmo unleashes the orgy of deception at the core of the "Cosi" plot.

And for stylish comedy, you couldn't do much better than soprano Fleta Hylton as Despina, the flighty maid who doubles (and triples) as the doctor and the notary - both goofy, and both male. She was hilarious.

Peters also demonstrated a fine sense of style by opting for the Annapolis setting, which worked beautifully, and by cloaking the final reunion of the fickle foursome in the ambiguity they all so richly deserved. Who wound up with whom? Who knows?

Coordination between the singers was not always exemplary, nor could the orchestra handle the fleet, tongue-twisting phrases of the wonderful overture.

But bravo to conductor Ronald Gretz for being on top of those sudden segues from comedy to heart-stopping introspection. Dorabella and Guglielmo were chirping away in Act II when, in a flash, Fiordiligi was breaking my heart with her "Tu vuoi tormi la pace" (You wish to torment my peace) recitative with Ferrando.

How sad the moment. How gorgeous the song. How eternally Mozart the conception.

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