By Márcio Bezerra
It is as if Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a musical Midas: Every musical genre he touched was elevated by him, including opera.
Few other composers (one must think as far back as Monteverdi) prepared the way for the advent of modern (19th century) opera as he did. Therefore, it is always a treat when Palm Beach Opera stage one of his masterworks as it did Feb. 24 with Così fan Tutte.
One of his three operas written in collaboration with the colorful librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, it is a provocative tale about the frailty of amorous fidelity. Considered by many (including Beethoven) as immoral, the libretto has presented ethical and moral difficulties for audiences of every era. Ours — especially after the dawn of the #MeToo movement — is certainly ready to condemn some of the plot’s twists, but the music is of such irresistible beauty that it forces us to confront, rather than cancel, this convoluted tale.
And that is what great art sometimes does to us: Make us ponder about society’s most established conventions and how close we can get to moral and spiritual abysses when we disregard them.
Under the direction of Music Director David Stern, the production seen at the Kravis Center of the Performing Arts was a success in all fronts, starting with a superlative Palm Beach Opera Orchestra. On opening night, the ensemble was in top form, its principals delivering technically flawless solos (especially the French horn) and giving the soloists on the stage a sensitive and flexible foundation.
The cast was well-balanced — no one had a much-too-big voice to overshadow their colleagues. Soprano Hailey Clark was a fine Fiordiligi, her “Come scoglio” sung with virtuosic authority, although with less-than-perfect diction. Clear diction was also lacking in mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey’s characterization of Dorabella, although her sensitive phrasing and most beautiful tone made up for it. As a perfect vocal match, the pair of sisters shone in ensemble numbers such as the duet “’Prenderò quel brunettino.”
As Despina, soprano Madison Leonard stole the show whenever on the stage. Her clear diction and well-honed acting skills made her maid-character believable and her manipulations funny, instead of unethical.
The two friends Ferrando and Guglielmo were also perfectly matched by the voices of tenor Duke Kim and baritone Thomas Glass. Kim displayed musical finesse and great projection in the aria “Un’aura amorosa,” while Glass delivered an elegant “Non siate ritrosi.”
As Don Alfonso, Dennis Jesse displayed excellent acting skills and some of the better diction among the cast. If sometimes his singing felt a little less polished, he compensated with his stage presence.
Sets from a production of the Opera de Monte-Carlo and San Francisco Opera were light and unobtrusive, while the direction of Fenlon Lamb kept the action going even though the typical Mozartean dragging in the second act could not be avoided.
A special mention must be made to the outstanding season program, with its provocative essays by Catherine Hughes. Overall, a most enjoyable evening at the opera.