A Canadian Così Fan Tutte

Così fan tutte, K588

Ferrando – Michael Colvin
Guglielmo – Russell Braun
Don Alfonso – Enzo Capuano
Fiordiligi – Joni Henson
Dorabella – Kristina Szabó
Despina – Shannon Mercer

Chorus and Orchestra of Canadian Opera Company
Richard Bradshaw

Daniel Dooner – Director
Jorge Jara – Set & Costumes
Stephen Ross – Lighting

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 26 October, 2006
Venue: Opera House, Four Seasons Centre, Toronto

This is a review not only of a good “Così fan tutte”, but also of Toronto’s fine new opera house located at the Four Seasons Centre for the performing arts.

Firstly, this is a wonderful new opera theatre, with its large, modern auditorium based on the traditional horseshoe design. It has excellent sight-lines, comfortable seating with masses of leg-room, but more importantly an enviably clear acoustic. The foyer area is a model of sensible design with plenty of space that is very adaptable – on this night, one of the foyers was being used as a venue for a pre-performance talk that any passing audience-member could join in with.

The Canadian Opera Company had celebrated the move into its new home by staging Wagner’s ‘Ring’ cycle – quite some start by all accounts! As a complete contrast, the second offering of the season was Mozart’s intimate comedy, a revival of a production from 1992. It seemed to fit very well into the new space, and the flexible designs of Jorge Jara allowed the various scenic transitions to take place rapidly behind moving curtains, as well as allowing glimpses of the sights of Naples as the action progressed.

That the story-line of ‘Così’ is supposed to take place within 24 hours was highlighted by the fact that the lighting traced the day as it progressed. Dawn was breaking as the men made their bet, the sisters were having a morning stroll as their lovers announced their departure for war, Ferrando’s final wooing of Fiordiligi was at sundown, and the wedding was an evening affair. The production, surtitled, was in most respects rather traditional and all the welcome for that since one imagines that the new building will itself attract new audiences.

The cast was a suitably young one, with the exception of Enzo Capuano’s evidently very experienced Don Alfonso. How wonderful to hear such a vocally rich performance of this role in native Italian. Every word was crystal clear, coloured and engagingly sung (indeed, clarity of diction was characteristic of the entire cast). All aspects of Don Alfonso were realised – his geniality, his cynicism, his experience (some of it, one felt, not all good), his manipulative nature and even a touch of cruelty. In the right hands it is a great role, and Capuano grasped his opportunities with both.

Of the other singers only one was familiar to this reviewer. Russell Braun has appeared in the UK at Glyndebourne (as Pelleas) and at the Royal Opera House (as Valentin in its recent revival of “Faust”). Here, he was the macho Guglielmo, wooing Dorabella with vocal suavity and with some concern about his friend’s possible reaction. His moment of anxiety when the girls seemed to be selecting the ‘wrong’ partner was vividly portrayed. And he engaged with the audience in ‘Donne mie, la fate a tanti’ with humour. He’s a fine singer.

As Ferrando, Michael Colvin revealed a sturdy, fluid and very likeable tenor voice and a pleasant stage manner. His was a more reticent Ferrando than some, and in duet and partnership he occasionally seemed a little overshadowed by Braun’s Guglielmo. They did partner on equal terms, however, when pretending to poison themselves at the end of the first act. He sang ‘Un’aura amorosa’ very well indeed, but sadly was deprived of ‘Ah, lo veggio’.

Of the two sisters, it was Kristina Szabó’s Dorabella who stood out. Vocally, she sounded completely at ease in her role and was engagingly flighty in her stage business. Her departure from Ferrando was absolutely hilarious and her ‘Smanie implacabili’ was well sung at a remarkably slow speed.

Joni Henson’s Fiordiligi took quite some time to settle down. In her early duets with Dorabella she sounded ill at ease, and her tone was not ingratiating. She also appeared to have a bit of trouble with the admittedly fiendish ‘Come scoglio’. Once past that hurdle, however, she seemed to relax and then, both dramatically and vocally, she made more of an impression, giving a really excellent account of ‘Per pieta’.

Shannon Mercer delivered an ebullient performance as Despina, in her crisp, bright soprano. Her arias were nicely sung and her ‘doctor’ and ‘notary’ were suitably differentiated and not overdone.

One moment of recitative and direction really stood out – when Don Alfonso and Despina plan the meeting of the couples in the garden after she has been introduced to the men in disguise. The two intriguers sat on a stool and as Despina described her experiences of love and romance the tempo slowed and slowed as both she and also Don Alfonso solitarily reflected on their past experience before pulling themselves together. Here the director illustrated that both these characters had evidently felt betrayed in the past and that their individual natures since were a reaction to these betrayals. It was incredibly poignant.

The orchestral performance was solid, even if Richard Bradshaw’s tempos were generally slower and the textures more full than might now be considered ‘fashionable’ in the light of the ‘period’-instrument movement and recent scholarship. It perhaps lacked a bit of sparkle and wit – although it did complement the stage action very well, and Bradshaw was very supportive to the singers. The flautist and oboist seemed to be having a very good evening – indeed the acoustic seems to favour the woodwinds quite a bit.

An enjoyable evening then – and a new house for the Canadian Opera Company to be very proud of indeed!

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