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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Skylight's Misguided 'Così fan tutte'

Classical Review

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I had a familiar feeling sitting through Così fan tutte at Skylight Opera on Sunday afternoon: seething irritation. It's the experience of witnessing a director's misguided take on an opera, confusing the rightful role of insightful interpreter with that of an original creator. Director Dimitri Toscas wrote a free libretto in English to (most of) Mozart's score, much of it having little to do with the original, magical libretto of Lorenzo Da Ponte.

Toscas showed more severe tastelessness in his version of La Traviata, which played at the Skylight a few seasons ago. Nevertheless, tastelessness is plenty present in this Cosìfan tutte (an untranslatable phrase, roughly meaning "All Women Are Like That"). Moving the action to Chicago in 1959 is harmless enough, I suppose, but wrenching refinement and restraint from the characters did drastic damage to the heart of the opera. Sex and desire is ever present in most Mozart operas. Something is decidedly lost, not gained, by taking it to heavy-handed, explicit lewdness, as Toscas has done. As a librettist, Toscas also has little sense of how words are gracefully set to music.

In a charade of disguised male paramours switching female partners, there is stirring and lovely ambiguity in the characters' feelings in the original opera, creating playful and captivating tension between pretended and earnest emotion. This unique, essential Mozart/Da Ponte quality was sent packing in Toscas' Così.

To hear Despina (called Desi in this production) sing jazz in the middle of a Mozart score is jarring, to say the least. It was an annoyance to hear no winds in the orchestration (played here by piano), and the string orchestra parts played (with questionable tuning) by soloists.

The performers are capable and likable. I pity their plight in this hopeless concept. Mark Womack (as Guglielmo, here called Elmer) is an unusually good actor, with a handsome baritone voice. Soprano Kathy Pyeatt (as Fiordiligi, called Flora here) had shining vocal moments in long held, spun high notes. Peter Clark, Lindsey Falduto, Danielle Hermon Wood, and Brandon Wood did their credible best to make it work.
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