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Much fun with a good deal of fussiness

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
02/05/2019 -  & February 7, 9, 13, 15, 17, 21, 23, 2019
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Così fan tutte, K. 588
Kirsten MacKinnon (Fiordiligi), Emily DAAngelo (Dorabella), Ben Bliss (Ferrando), Johannes Kammler (Guglielmo), Tracy Dahl (Despina), Russell Braun (Don Alfonso)
The Canadian Opera Chorus, Sandra Horst (chorus master), The Canadian Opera Orchestra, Bernard Labadie (conductor)
Atom Egoyan (director), Debra Hanson (set and costume designer), Michael Walton (lighting designer)

J. Kammler, E. D’Angelo, K. MacKinnon, B. Bliss
(© Michael Cooper)

Atom Egoyan’s production of Così fan Tutte, first produced in 2014, returns with both its virtues and flaws on display.

The main flaw derives from Egoyan’s desire to do something original with the work. Its subtitle is “School for lovers”, so he stages it in a school (modern day sort of), with a group of students under Don Alfonso’s tutelage observing and noting the actions and reactions of the two couples. This clutters the stage with unnecessary business, plus the students are used inconsistently as they come and go at random. (And it is always a relief when they are gone.)

Having the two sisters dressed as schoolgirls brings forth a reference to Atom Egoyan’s 1994 film Exotica wherein a man becomes obsessed with an exotic dancer who dresses as a schoolgirl. Some people are intrigued by this, but I don’t think anything fetishistic is implied in this production of Così.

There is also a lot of business with a huge blow-up of Frida Kahlo’s painting Two Fridas featuring two exposed hearts. One must admit that the word “cor” (heart) does occur in at least one aria, but extensive business with the painting shamefully upstages the scene where Ferrando and Guglielmo compare notes on their progress in wooing one another’s fiancée. The word “farfalla” (butterfly) also appears in an aria, and perhaps this inspired the plenitude of butterfly imagery which makes a very attractive stage picture at times.

In his director’s note, Egoyan also states that the two women are in on the wager, but this attempt to add another layer to the plot has no discernable bearing on the stage action, which turns out to be a decent handling of a somewhat problematic drama. (Just how silly can the women be to be taken in by the disguises? Just how silly are the men who think it will work?)

The casting is very strong. Kirsten MacKinnon (Pamina here in 2017) returns as Fiordiligi and she is a delight. Emily D’Angelo entered the COC’s Ensemble Studio in 2015 and in last year’s Operalia managed to win four top prizes; her fast-rising star is on full display. US tenor Ben Bliss is a natural for the role of Ferrando, displaying an attractive, youthful tone, while German baritone, Johannes Kammler, equally suits the role of Guglielmo. All four can be convincingly heartfelt and comical, but funniest of all is Tracy Dahl, returning as the cynical Despina. Everyone receives hearty applause at the curtain calls, but Ms Dahl’s has extra decibels. With respect to Russell Braun’s Don Alfonso, I would have preferred a darker voice for this manipulative character, even if just to distinguish him further from the other baritone. His handling of recitative is a model for all.

It is always wonderful to have Bernard Labadie in the pit, sensitively molding the music in his inimitable style.

The modern setting suits some of the stage action; for example, when Fiordiligi sings her great aria “Come scoglio” (Like a rock) she rises one hand, palm out, pointing to it with the other hand. This contemporary gesture (“talk to the hand”) indicates “I am ignoring you” as she refuses to go along with Don Alfonso and Despina’s urgings to abandon her fidelity to Guglielmo. This prompted laughter from a part of the audience.

There is much to enjoy here. Just try to ignore the extraneous fussy business.

Michael Johnson



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