Friday, April 27, 2012

Il destin così defrauda le speranze de' mortali

Last night I attended the first performance in the New York Opera Exchange's run of Così fan tutte. Their production, directed by Cameron Marcotte, not only uses the Mozart/Da Ponte work to underline contemporary assumptions about class, gender, and virtue, but offers a look at the perils of lives revolving around the poles of Starbucks and social media. Don Alfonso is an unrepentantly exploitative financier, Ferrando and Guglielmo two arrogant and ambitious Ivy Leaguers in his pay. Despina is the PA whom he admits to underpaying, Fiordiligi and Dorabella sorority sisters (and "trust fund babies," in Despina's scornful phrase) hired as window-dressing. The young men disguise themselves as Occupy protesters (an identity as farcically foreign to, and flimsily maintained by them, as that of Albanians.) In the end, Dorabella and Ferrando part ways, while Fiordiligi and Guglielmo are reconciled and reunited; but how their future will unfold remains uncertain. This reimagining of the opera's relationships was explained to the audience in English dialogue substituted for the original recits (and for Despina's opening aria.) The audience was appreciative of the topical humor, also present in projected titles which frequently took such translation options as "Promise to Skype me every day!" and "You expect loyalty from businessmen?" As I've whined before, I find partial translation distracting, myself; a curiosity of yesterday's performance was that, without exception, the singers acted better in Italian.

This first full opera production by the NY Opera Exchange marked the beginning of a collaboration with the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra. A dimly lit and somewhat humid church hall did the ensemble no favors. Playing was frequently out of tune and not infrequently uncoordinated. Still, the resourcefulness of both groups in forging the relationship is to be commended. The evening's cast was collectively characterized by the program as "emerging artists"; most of them are currently pursuing or have recently completed graduate programs in performance. The Despina of Amanda Chmela was dryly pragmatic. Her timbre is darker than that of many sopranos who have essayed the role, which abetted her no-nonsense portrayal. "In uomini, in soldati" and "Una donna à quindic'anni" were both delivered with secure tone and fine diction. Don Alfonso was sung with warm tone and easy phrasing by Brad Baron, who also was committed to characterizing the man as leering, cynical, and exploitative. The much darker voice of Joseph Beckwith, as Guglielmo, made a good contrast. Beckwith sang strongly and gave a charismatic performance as the (over-)confident suitor. The evening's Ferrando, Justin Werner, exhibited a pleasant timbre but struggled with intonation problems. These were least apparent in "Un'aura amorosa," which he phrased nicely. Rachel Anne Hippert made an earnest Fiordiligi; she was occasionally covered by the orchestra, but sang expressively throughout, coloring her voice to fit the anxieties and defiances of the character. Mezzo Abigail Levis gave a standout performance as Dorabella, with focused, agile, and emotionally rich singing. Her lyric timbre was matched with a vivid portrayal, charting Dorabella's journey from faintly guilty sympathy to joyously sensual flirtation. Hers was the most dramatic trajectory; but whether the lovers would reevaluate the order of their lives in the wake of a day of chaos was far from certain.

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