Tanglewood Music Festival 2023 – Andris Nelsons conducts Mozart’s Così fan tutte

Così fan tutte, K588 – Opera buffa in two Acts to a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte [concert staging; sung in Italian, with English supertitles by James Darrah]

Fiordiligi – Nicole Cabell
Dorabella – Kate Lindsey
Ferrando – Amitai Pati
Guglielmo – Elliot Madore
Don Alfonso – Patrick Carfizzi
Despina – Meigui Zhang

Dennis Giauque (harpsichord)

Tanglewood Festival Chorus,
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Andris Nelsons 

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 15 July, 2023
Venue: Koussevitzky Music Shed, Tanglewood, Lenox, Massachusetts

In this concert staging of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the singers moved about in front of the orchestra, interacting and singing from memory as they would in a full staging. However, the absence of missing elements — props, scenery and especially costume changes, which are central to the opera’s plot — taxed the audience’s imagination. Nevertheless, the performers successfully told the story with marvelous singing and playing. The six principals all gave fascinating characterizations, both vocally and dramatically, their voices consistently in fine balance in the opera’s many ensembles. 

Music Director Andris Nelsons led a scaled-down Boston Symphony Orchestra ensemble in a superb traversal of Mozart’s score, starting with the brief introduction that includes the five-note motto that is later sung to the words of the title. In the overture, the BSO strings set a bright atmosphere and the woodwinds were delightful as they passed a rollicking figure from one instrument to another, before the motto’s return. Throughout the opera, Nelsons restrained orchestral dynamics to enhance and not overbalance the singers. At one point early in Act Two, Nelsons even briefly injected himself into the plot, humorously exchanging glances with Dorabella to encourage her to accept the disguised Guglielmo. Dennis Giauque’s harpsichord provided excellent accompaniments to recitatives, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus also performed admirably.

Soprano Nicole Cabell and mezzo Kate Lindsey make a contrasting pair of sisters, with Cabell’s Fiordiligi more reserved than Lindsey’s Dorabella. Their voices blend particularly beautifully, as in their coloratura-laden duet ‘Ah guarda sorella’ and in the softer ‘Soave sia il vento’, a prayer for gentle winds to transport their just-departed lovers, with Patrick Carfizzi’s Don Alfonso providing a gently supportive bass line. Both women are glorious in their arias, Cabell resplendent in the wide-ranging ‘Come scoglio’ in Act One, and Lindsey angry in ‘Smanie implacabili’ in Act One and in the second Act graceful in ‘È amore un ladroncello’, when Dorabella urges her sister to yield to temptation. James Darrah’s staging gives Lindsey ample opportunity to show off her talent for physical comedy, at one point entwining herself with Cabell’s body to instruct Fiordiligi in the art of seduction. 

As Ferrando, Amitai Pati sings with a tenor voice that is both supple and thrilling, his expressive ‘Un’ aura amorosa’, embellished by the violins and clarinets, a highlight. Elliot Madore’s pleasing baritone turns forceful when Guglielmo becomes enraged. The interactions of the two as the plot evolves range from friendly rivalry to shared hilarity to resentment with a touch of bitterness at the end. Although the opera’s plot calls for costume changes that would prevent the sisters from recognizing their disguised lovers, Pati and Madore do nothing more to alter their appearance than draw moustaches on their faces, but we soon accept that the men are unrecognizable to Fiordiligi and Dorabella, and that Despina’s rather minimal costume changes as she poses as a doctor and later as a notary also suffice to conceal her true identity. Unfortunately, some of the humor of the scene in which the two men feign taking poison is lost when ‘doctor’ Despina’s magnet turns out to be nothing more than a BSO music stand! Darrah’s supertitles avoid designating the disguised lovers as Albanians (except for a single such reference near the end) but offer no alternative explanation of who the men are supposed to be. 

Carfizzi’s Don Alfonso is convincingly clever as he sets the plot in motion and then manipulates the other characters to win his wager with Guglielmo and Ferrando. His strong bass-baritone voice is striking in his badinage with the two men, yet more subtle when underpinning the women’s voices. Soprano Meigui Zhang, who just last month represented China in the Cardiff Singer of the World competition, is a charming Despina, far more glamorous than we expect of her character. She is outstanding vocally, as well as in her two comedic set pieces, as she advances Don Alfonso’s scheme. Yet her theories about the nature and role of men (‘In uomini’ in Act One) and of women (‘Una donna a quindici anni’ in Act Two) contrast sharply with Alfonso’s teachings. 

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