Review: Seattle Opera’s “Cosi fan Tutte”: A Crowd-Pleasing Alternate Cast – January 14, 2018

The Seattle Opera, reviving Jonathan Miller’s 2006 production of Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte”, split the seven performances between two casts. I previously reported on the cast in which Marina and Ginger Costa-Jackson, Tuomas Katajala and Craig Verm respectively performed the roles of Fiordiligi, Dorabella, Ferrando and Guglielmo [Review: Seattle Opera’s “Cosi fan Tutte”: Costa-Jackson Sisters Lead Convincing Cast .]  Those four roles in the alternate cast were performed by Marjukka Tepponen, Hannah Hipp, Ben Bliss and Michael Adams.

The other two principals – Kevin Burdette as Don Alfonso and Laura Tatulescu as Despina – performed their roles in both casts. My comments on Burdette’s Don Alfonso, Tatulescu’s Despina and Maestro Paul Daniels’ conducting are found in my previous review.

Marjukka Tepponen’s Fiordiligi and Hannah Hipp’s Dorabella

Finnish soprano Marjukka Tepponen, in her Seattle Opera debut, proved to be a formidable Fiordiligi, bringing vocal elegance and sophisticated bearing to the role of the “serious” sister.

Fiordiligi has two of Mozart’s most brilliant (and difficult) arias for the soprano voice, Come scoglio and Per pieta, both of which Tepponen performed with distinction.

[Below: Marjukka Tepponen (left) as Fiordiligi and Hanna Hipp (right) as Dorabella; edited image, based on a Philip Newton photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

Fiordiligi’s sister Dorabella was playfully performed by Polish mezzo-soprano Hannah Hipp. Convincing as the more light-hearted of the sisters, Hipp was ebullient singing Dorabella’s jaunty second act aria about the mischievousness of love.

[Below: Don Alfonso (Kevin Burdette, center) assures the sisters Dorabella (Hanna Hipp, left) and FIordiligi  (Marjukka Tepponen, second from left) that he is best friends with the two rockers who are really Ferrando (Ben Bliss, second from right) and Guglielmo (Michael Adams, right) in disguise; edited image, based on a Philip Newton photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

Ben Bliss’ Ferrando and Michael Adams’ Guglielmo

Kansas lyric tenor Ben Bliss sang beautifully and acted convincingly as Ferrando. A graduate of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artists’ program, Bliss’ career, which has included the prestigious role of Flamand at the Santa Fe Opera [see Review: Santa Fe Opera Makes the Case for “Capriccio”- July 27, 2016], is on the ascendancy.

[Below: Ferrando (Ben Bliss, right) bids adieu to his girlfriend, Dorabella; edited image, based on a Philip Newton photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

This was my first opportunity to review a performance by Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program alumnus Michael Adams, whose Mozart credentials include the title role of “Don Giovanni” at the Kennedy Center. He easily met the expectations of the role of Guglielmo, with both the required swagger and sure delivery of his the role’s self-promoting arias.

[Below: Guglielmo (Michael Adams, right) bids adieu to his girlfriend, Fiordiligi; edited image, based on a Philip Newton photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

Notes on the production

The production is filled with cleverly crafted comic routines, centered around the idea of the sisters being professional women in contemporary Seattle (a shift from Miller’s original Hollywood-based concept).

Despina, no longer the maid envisioned by Mozart, is a personal assistant who mutters about a long wait at Starbucks for the sisters’ lattes.

When Don Alfonso arranges for the army reserve unit to which Ferrando and Guglielmo belong to be “mobilized”, the men arrive in camouflage uniforms and enact very funny pantomimes of guerilla warfare.

[Below: the Oregonian rockers, the disguises used by Guglielmo (Michael Adams, left) and Ferrando (Ben Bliss, right); edited image, based on a Philip Newton photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

Jonathan Miller’s unit set is the austere suite of the sisters (apparently in the process of redecoration), whose furnishings include a stack of throw pillows (into which both the sisters and their suitors fall from time to time.) Among its scarce furnishings is a full-length mirror (its reflective surface not visible to the audience) allowing multiple humorous opportunities for the six characters to react to their images.

Moving the time of the action into 2018 permits references to ringtones (one of which sounds three times before Don Alfonso recognizes it’s his cellphone) and selfies (a photo of Dorabella snuggling with Guglielmo distresses Ferrando.)

The move into the present time also places this opera about the attitudes of men and women towards each other into current mainstream discussions. The opera’s plot involves a money bet on how women will behave when their boyfriends are away, involving deliberate deceptions, including disguises, false identities and staged suicide attempts.

For the production’s 2018 ending, neither sister appears to be in the mood to go back to the boyfriends who intentionally deceived them and Despina shows a flash of anger at being enlisted into the charade.

Recommendation

I enthusiastically recommend the opera, production and both of the casts offered by the Seattle Opera, both to the veteran opera goer and the person new to opera.