Monday, 3 March 2014

MOZART'S COSI FAN TUTTE / Singapore Lyric Opera / Review

Singapore Lyric Opera
Esplanade Theatre
Friday (28 February 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 3 March 2014 with the title "Comedic plot and witty lines make for a likeable Cosi offering."

With Cosi Fan Tutte, the Singapore Lyric Opera has completed the trilogy of great operas Mozart composed with the Italian librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. The first two were The Marriage Of Figaro and Don Giovanni, premiered in 1786 and 1787, which are more popular than the 1790 offering. Although Cosi does not have the show-stopping arias and melodies of its predecessors, the comedic plot and witty lines make it lighter-going and instantly likeable.

Even its misogynist premise and social commentary, shocking at the time, still resonate amid the liberal mores of the 21st century. Ferrando and Guglielmo subject their fiancees, Dorabella and Fiordiligi, to a test of fidelity by way of a farcical experiment. They pretend to go to war, but return in disguise to woo each other’s amore, while watching the results unravel.    

Veteran British director Tom Hawkes chose early 20th century Southeast Asia as its setting, with a Somerset Maugham-like atmosphere in a quasi-Raffles hotel designed by Christopher Chua. A combo of local and Western period costumes by Moe Kasim added to the exoticism of the production that was wholly appropriate.

The main cast members, just six in total, complemented each other well. Tenor Raffaele d’Ascanio’s Ferrando was nursing a bad throat, which was raspy and strained on the evening, but one would not fault his chemistry with baritone Park Byeong-in’s Guglielmo, Du Qin’s Dorabella and Rachelle Gerodias’s Fiordiligi. The trio Soave sia il vento (Act I) and duet Il core vi dono (Act II) were memorable for the singers’ sensitivity and the rapport developed between their characters.

Bass David Hibbard’s Don Alfonso playing the cynical devil’s advocate for the men and Yee Ee-Ping’s Despina, fanning the flames of passion for the confused women, were excellent in their roles. In addition, Yee’s caricatured portrayals of a traditional Chinese physician and bewigged lawyer were totally hilarious.

The Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra, conducted by Joshua Kangming Tan, was not always immaculate but assiduously kept up with the onstage action. The small chorus, also serving as extras, had small parts and added to the visual interest on a whole.

People accustomed to television sitcoms, in which everything is wrapped up within the half-hour, might baulk at Cosi’s simple tale which ran for the best part of three hours. Even in poetic Italian, some sections did drag a little, but one needs to look beyond the unfolding narrative and savour the opera’s various nuances, which were plentiful and entertaining­­.

As the misunderstandings and women’s red faces cleared up in the final scene, when common sense is lauded above all in the trials and tribulations of life, director Hawkes did leave some elbow room for dissent. Those who caught Guglielmo and Dorabella’s body language as the final curtain fell might agree that not everybody gets to live happily ever after.

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