The Canadian Opera Company has very wisely revived Atom Egoyan’s 2014 production of Cosi Fan Tutte to go along with Richard Strauss’s Elektra for its winter season. It is a highly enjoyable and brilliant production and the only thing for you to do is high-tail it to the Four Seasons Centre for tickets. However, I will make a few comments on it.
There are two images that will mark this production in seeing it and in memory. The first is a large reproduction of Frida Kahlo’s surrealist painting The Two Fridas and the other is the setting of the opera in a school for lovers.
Cosi Fan Tutte is about love, fidelity, treachery and reconciliation. You remember Ferrando and Guglielmo are in love (that does their passion an injustice) with Dorabella and Fiordiligi. They will not brook any doubt about the depth and constancy of their loves. Needless to say, the young ladies reciprocate in equal measure. Are women fickle? Don Alfonso bets that they are and to prove his point he has the men appear disguised as Albanians and woo the women. Guess what?
Love is a matter of the heart and the lovers in Cosi talk of broken hearts and ripping out hearts at the thought or fact of infidelity. Kahlo’s Two Fridas is a double self-portrait of the artist wearing a European dress, with an anatomically visible heart and a vein dripping blood on one side and of herself wearing a traditional Mexican dress, perhaps a broken heart and holding a portrait of her estranged husband in her hand. .
The two sisters of Cosi are very much alike but they are also very different and one can draw parallels between them and the two Fridas. You can make whatever you want of the portrait as it relates to the production, but Egoyan makes sure that you pay attention to the details of the painting.
Rather than a café, Egoyan with Set Designer Debra Hanson, sets some of the action in a school for lovers. The “students” will make up the chorus and provide some humorous appearances. And you will see numerous large size butterflies and they can mean whatever you want but you may wish to think of them as symbols of freedom.
If you want to ignore all the above, you will still enjoy an effervescent, marvelously sung production. Start with soprano Kirsten MacKinnon as Fiordiligi, the sister who refuses to fall for the pursuing “Albanian.” She tells us she is solid as a rock in the octave-leaping aria “Come scoglio immoto resta” only to live to sing the gorgeous “Per pieta” asking for forgiveness.
Mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo as Dorabella is more easily convinced to fall for the Albanian visitor but we like her for her practical and perhaps even modern thinking about love. All protestations to the contrary, she understands human nature and the attraction of love at hand over love in the absence of a lover. Well sung, well done.
Tenor Ben Bliss and baritone Johannes Kammler as Ferrando and Guglielmo respectively are classic lovers, full of passion, hot wind, irrational thinking and splendid singing. Baritone Russell Braun who sang Guglielmo in 2014 takes on the role of the philosopher Don Alfonso.
No Cosi is complete without a very good Despina. She is the sisters’ maid and plotting partner of Don Alfonso. Soprano Tracy Dahl is a spitfire of a singer and performer in the role. She is funny, sings with great verve and moves with amazing speed. A delight to see and hear.
Bernard Labadie conducts the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra and Mozart’s music is a sheer pleasure to hear.
With Egoyan at the helm, you may want to describe the production as the thinking man’s Cosi Fan Tutte but that may discourage some people from seeing it. Like the lovers at some point, you can enjoy the opera without thinking, if you so choose.
Cosi Fan Tutte opened on February 5 and will be performed eight times until February 23, 2019 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts