NL Day Review: CLO ensembles make beautiful music together

March 13, 2012 No Comments

By Milton Moore.
Published in The Day 03/13/2012

The musical magic of Mozart’s finest operas is revealed in their unparalleled ensembles, when three, four or more voices each express an individual character, while still meshing in layers of fluid counterpoint, then uniting in pointed unisons to propel the storyline.

Sunday evening at the Garde Arts Center, the Connecticut Lyric Opera staged a performance of “Cosi Fan Tutte” that embraced that magic, with a spirited musicality that flowed from the pit to unite the singing ensembles onstage. From the well-known overture onward, CLO Artistic Director Adrian Sylveen led the 18-piece orchestra in a tight and brisk, yet nuanced, performance that often kept the orchestral as starry as the principals onstage.

“Cosi Fan Tutte” (“They’re All the Same”) is compact, drawing room theater. The tale is a lovers’ farce, in which the cynical old bachelor Don Alfonso bets two young officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, that if they play along with his plot, he can get their fiancées to betray them in just 24 hours. Don Alfonso then tells the fiancées, sisters named Dorabella and Fiordiligi, that the officers were called off to war, and with the help of the sisters’ maid, Despina, he introduces the sisters to two “Albanian nobles” – who are none other than Ferrando and Guglielmo in disguise. By the final scene, the sisters have signed wedding contracts with “the Albanians,” learned the truth and been forgiven, all in short order.

All of this rides on Mozart’s fabulous score, and the sense of ensemble – not just with the voices onstage but with the voices of the orchestra – is accentuated by the five primary singers being cast from five different vocal ranges, as if sections of their own little orchestra. Time and again Sunday, the CLO’s small pit orchestra sang as beautifully as the cast, such as in the transitional passages in the first scene of Act 2 as the chorus comes onstage, when the wind ensemble was worthy of a chamber music performance. Oboist Joanna Lamb, flutist Jill Maurer-Davis, clarinetist Tom Labadorf and bassoonist Jennifer Bruening often deserved equal billing.

The stars onstage were the pairs of lovers – tenor Luke Scott, playing Guglielmo, baritone Daniel Juarez, playing Ferrando, soprano Dana Schnitzer, in her CLO debut playing Fiordiligi, and mezzo soprano Aleksandra Kaminska, making her U.S. debut as Dorabella – bass Miles Rind, playing Don Alfonso, and soprano Aleksandra Romano, playing Despina.

The cast was vocally solid in this opera that stresses the parts making the whole, singing with lyricism in their arias and a keen sense of the many moving parts in the frequent quintets and sextets. The sisters’ duets are usually paired, not counterpoint (they’re all the same, remember?), and Schnitzer and Kaminska displayed beautifully matched voices, balanced and gorgeous in the lovestruck legato sections, such as when paired in the trio with Rind “Soave sia il vento” or the tender duet “Ah, che un mar pien di tormento.”

The role of the scheming maid Despina is a scene-stealer, and Romano made the most of it, vocally hilarious when impersonating a doctor (complete with Groucho glasses, nose and moustache) to revive the Albanians who have feigned suicide to win the sisters’ sympathy.

The production, directed by Eve Summer, accentuated the music and downplayed the comedy, with few broad asides and farcical moments aside from Despina’s. As the plotting Don Alfonso, Rind was fairly wooden, both vocally and in characterization, for such a central role, and while tenor Scott was animated and has some fine vocal moments (such as his Act 2 duet with Kaminska “Il core vi dono”), Juarez seemed uncertain of his character.

The many mistaken-identity opera buffas of the era rely on a suspension of disbelief, but when the soldiers returned as the Albanians to deceive their lovers, the extent of their disguises were simple changes of costumes. Large, comic false moustaches are generally used here, but since both of the men wore close-cropped beards, they skipped the moustaches (referred to in the dialog). Then, when they are “unmasked” at the end, there’s nothing hidden to reveal, and the moment lost its theatricality.

But these are trifles next to the loving rendering of Mozart’s seamless score, and Sylveen, orchestra and principals were true to its energetic and dramatic focus and its beauty. The costumes, sets and chorus were fine, the singing and musicianship were good, and the effect was excellent entertainment

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