Opera Warhorses

An appreciation and analysis of the 'Standard Repertory' of opera

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Review: Classy Cast in Classic “Cosi fan Tutte” – Houston Grand Opera, October 31, 2014

November 1st, 2014

Swedish director Göran Järvefelt’s 1988 production of Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte” was revived by the Houston Grand Opera. Sporting a cast consisting of veteran operatic comedians Nuccia Focile as Despina and Alessandro Corbelli as Don Alfonso, it provides the vehicle for showing the talents of four young rising stars of opera.

Rachel Willis-Sørensen is Fiordiligi, Melody Moore is Dorabella, Norman Reinhardt is Ferrando and Jacques Imbrailo is Guglielmo.

[Below: Don Alfono (Alessandro Corbelli, left) enters a wager with Ferrando (Norman Reinhardt, center) and Guglielmo (Jacques Imbrialo, right) that he can prove their lovers will be unfaithful to them; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]

COSI ALFONSO GUGLELMO FERRANDO (425)

Cast as Fiordiligi was Rachel Willis-Sørensen, an alumna of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, only three years ago was singing small roles in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” and Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly”.

Her recent career highlights include winning multiple awards in the 2014 international Operalia contest, held in Los Angeles. Possessing a lyric coloratura with power, Willis-Sørensen was spectacular in her delivery of the difficult first act aria Come scoglio and even more spectacular in her difficult second act aria Per pieta, ben mio persona.

[Below: The sisters Fiordiligi (Rachel Willis-Sorensen, left) and Dorabella (Melody Moore, right) express their pleasure at having such wonderful lovers; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]

COSI FIORDILIGI DORABELLA ON FLOOR (425)

The Dorabella, soprano Melody Moore, displayed vocal security throughout the range of a role usually assayed by mezzo-sopranos.

I have reported on the some of the wide range of roles with which Tennessee soprano Melody Moore has been associated, including  Marguerite [Toby Spence Stars in Des McAnuff’s Rousing ENO Production of Gounod’s “Faust” – London, October 14, 2010], Senta [Ryan McKinny, Melody Moore, Jay Hunter Morris Soar in “Flying Dutchman” – Glimmerglass Festival, July 18, 2013]. Tosca [A “Tosca” Surprise in San Francisco – Angela Gheorghiu, Melody Moore Split Role of Tosca, Massimo Giordano Excels as Cavaradossi- November 15, 2012and Marta [An Impressive Production for Weinberg’s Holocaust-Themed “The Passenger” – Houston Grand Opera, January 25, 2014.]

Moore’s spirited delivery of Dorabella’s two arias and her flirtatious acting suggest that, as she moves further into the weightier roles in Wagner, Verdi and Puccini, she should not leave Mozart behind. [See my interview at Rising Stars: An Interview with Melody Moore.]

[Below: Despina (Nuccia Focile, left) exacts a price from Don Alfonso (Alessandro Corbelli, right) for joining in his plot; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]

COSI DESPINA POINTS AT ALFONSO (425)

Sicilian soprano Nuccia Focile and Alessandro Corbelli are sought-after comedians for the comic parts of Despina and Don Alfonso. Each has the responsibility for lending an air of plausibility in a rather fantastical plot.

They both reinforce the same message to the pairs of men and women. We are all sexual creatures.  One can observe to a point the conventions of the society in which we live, but that leaves ample room to enjoy ourselves, including whatever makes us sexually passionate.

(One notes that for many decades after its premiere operatic managements considered “Cosi fan Tutte” as beyond the boundaries of good taste. “Cosi” more or less disappeared from the performance repertory until the emid-20th century.)

[Below: Fiordiligi (Rachel Willis-Sorensen, far left) says goodbye to Guglielmo (Jacques Imbrailo) and Dorabella (Melody Moore, right, says goodbye to Ferrando (Norman Reinhart, second from right); edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]

COSI MEN'S DEPARTURE (425)

Norman Reinhardt, who was already at Houston Grand Opera performing Cassio in Verdi’s “Otello”, took over the role of Ferrando for all performances when a colleague withdrew because of illness.

I had last seen him five years previoiusly as Lysander [see Incandescent Houston “Midsummer Night’s Dream” – January 25, 2009]. He proved to be a likable Mozartean, with a warm lyric tenor voice, that was evident in Un’aura amorosa, one of the most beautiful and familiar of Mozart’s tenor arias.

[Below: Ferrando (Norman Reinhardt, first row, far right) and Guglielmo (Jacques Imbrailo) appear disguised as Albanians along with an Albanian retinue (Houston Grand Opera chorus members); edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]

COSI ALBANIAN MEN WITH CHORUS (425)

Reinhardt’s comic and improvisional skills were in evidence when his Albanian headgear became entangled in the scene in which Willis-Sørensen’s Fiordiligi believes she is  aiding Ferrando’s recovery from arsenic poisoning.

Even Reinhardt’s cast colleagues broke character and joined the audience’s laughter as Reinhardt struggled to restore his costume.

[Below:Ferrando (Norman Reinhardt, far left) and Guglielmo (Jacques Imbrailo, far right) suddenly appear at the home of the sisters Dorabella (Melody Moore, second from left) and Fiordiligi (Rachel Willis-Sørensen, second from right) to woo them; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]

COSI WOMEN W FERRANDO GUGLIELMO ALONE (425)

Jacques Imbrailo made a strong impression as Guglielmo with his winsome lyric baritone voice and engaging acting.

[Below: Guglielmo (Jacques Imbrailo, left, on floor) is cared for by Dorabella (Melody Moore, left, above) as Ferrando (Norman Reinhardt, center right, on floor) is cared for by Rachel Willis-Sørensen (center-right, above) while Despina, disguised as a physician (Nuccia Focile, center, arms outstretched) revives the men with her magnet; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]

COSI MESMER MAGNET (425)

In 1980, the Houston Grand Opera commissioned the then 33-year old Järvefelt to create productions for the three Mozart operas (along with “Don Giovanni” and “The Marriage of Figaro”) whose libretti were written by the gifted Lorenzo Da Ponte.

He conceptualized a unit set to serve all three operas that was realized by German set designer Carl-Friedrich Oberle, who also designed the colorful costumes.

[Below: Don Alfonso (Alessandro Corbelli, left) advises Fiordiligi (Rachel Willis-Sørensen, center) and Dorabella (Melody Moore, right) to take the Albanians’ courtship seriously; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]

COSI ALFONSO SISTERS (425)

Especially interesting are the whimsical costumes representing an imaginary Albania, worn by Ferrando and Guglielmo (and the opera’s chorus) whenever they are in disguise.

In a clever use of costume design, as each of the sisters becomes more enamored of what they believe to be their Albanian suitors, first their headdresses and then their outerwear takes on an Arabian Nights appearance.

[Below: Wearing Albanian costumes themselves, Fiordiligi (Rachel Willis-Sorensen, seated on floor,  front left center, left) and Dorabella (Melody Moore, seated on floor, front left center, right) signal their interest in the Albanian men who are actually Guglielmo (Jacques Imbrailo, standing, right center, left) and Ferrando (Norman Reinhardt, standing, right center, right) in disguise; edited image, based on a Lynn Lane photograph, courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera.]

COSI CHECKING OUT ALBANIAN GIRLS (425)

Since Järvefelt’s untimely death at age 42, Harry Silverstein has been the conservator of his ideas for staging the Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy. “Cosi fan Tutte”’s staging is as witty as Oberle’s sets are elegant.

Recommendation

 I enthusiastically recommend this cast and conductor both for the veteran operagoer and for persons new to opera, and applaud the Houston Grand Opera for the revival of the Järvefelt production, which I regard as a “world treasure”.

 

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