Review: Collaborative 'Cosi' scores at Juilliard

AP News
Posted: Nov 15, 2012 11:04 AM

NEW YORK (AP) — Talk about a high-powered collaboration: Artists from three of Lincoln Center's cultural institutions joining forces to perform one of Mozart's operatic masterpieces.

The result is a spirited and thoroughly enjoyable production of that most bittersweet of comedies, "Cosi fan tutte," which opened Wednesday night at the Juilliard School's Peter Jay Sharp Theater.

It's the third such venture between Juilliard and the Metropolitan Opera. Juilliard provides the orchestra musicians, and most of the singers are drawn from the Met's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program (some also are studying at Juilliard.)

This time there's a new and crucial element in the mix: Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic, conducting with a quicksilver touch that brings out the sparkle in the score but also plumbs its considerable emotional depths.

The story that unfolds in Lorenzo da Ponte's libretto is a simple one. The cynical Don Alfonso bets two younger friends, Ferrando and Guglielmo, that their sweethearts will prove unfaithful if given the chance. The men pretend to go off to war and, returning disguised as Albanians, each proceeds to woo the other's fiancee. The women, sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, reject them at first but then succumb — leading to a final scene of embarrassing revelations orchestrated by Alfonso and the sisters' maid, Despina.

Under the knowing hand of director Stephen Wadsworth, the talented cast of six takes a fresh approach to this tale of romantic betrayal and (at least partial) forgiveness. He keeps the proceedings buoyant in the more farcical first act, but the mood — along with David Lander's lighting — darkens considerably in the second half as feelings get hurt.

Charlie Corcoran's simple, serviceable set places most of the action in a garden with an orange tree and a balcony at the back. In one striking tableau, as Ferrando is seducing Fiordiligi, Wadsworth has all four of the other characters watching and reacting in the background — Alfonso and Despina from the balcony, Dorabella and Guglielmo from behind a curtain.

In most productions, the original pairs of lovers forgive each other (though sometimes they switch partners.) Wadsworth makes the ending more ambiguous, with one couple seemingly reconciled but the other not.

As Fiordiligi, the more resistant of the sisters, soprano Emalie Savoy (who sang the title role in last year's collaboration on Gluck's "Armide") grows in vocal and dramatic strength through the evening. The high point is her ravishing, wrenching account of the aria "Per pieta, ben mio," in which she asks for strength to remain faithful to her lover. Gilbert's sensitive pacing of the orchestral accompaniment here gives the scene the near-tragic grandeur it deserves.

Soprano Naomi O'Connell — the only soloist not from the Lindemann program — is a comic dynamo as Despina. And baritone Luthando Qave as Guglielmo stands out for the burnished beauty of his compact voice.

The others show promise as well: Tenor Alexander Lewis sings ardently as Ferrando, though he struggles a bit with the vocal line toward the end; mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta is a feisty Dorabella; and bass Evan Hughes a more-vulnerable-than-usual Alfonso (Wadsworth suggests he and Despina may have fallen in love by the end).

"Cosi" will be performed again this Saturday at 2 p.m. and again Monday at 8 p.m.