Acting And Singing Highlight OTSL’s “Cosi Fan Tutte” With A Subtle Twist That Changes Everything

The six principles of Opera Theatre- St. Louis’ production of Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte.” Photo credit: Ken Howard

Opera Theatre- St. Louis continues their banner season with a splendid production of Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte.” The six principles and the Opera chorus are all in wonderful voice and some delightful stage direction and execution enhance this silly story with a typical powerhouse Mozart score. Director Michael Shell even offers his own subtle take on the proceedings in the final moments that make all the difference in this light-hearted romp.

But first to the singer/actors. Rachel Willis-Sorensen leads the way as Fiordiligi with the most intricate arias of the night and this soprano handles them with ease- often belying the fact of how difficult they really are. Along with facial expressions and body language that tell the tale of the woman who is tempted but refuses to yield, she is superb. You see, she and her sister are engaged to two soldiers who are swayed into testing their ladies’ fidelity and fake going off to war only to return disguised as rich, lusty Albanians. As her sister, Dorabella, Kathryn Leemhius is equally adept both vocally and in showing us the more willing sister when it comes to playing the field while they believe their fiances are fighting for their country. Her rich, clear mezzo-soprano is breathtaking.

James Maddalena, Liam Bonner and David Portillo in “Cosi Fan Tutte” at Opera Theatre- St. Louis. Photo credit: Ken Howard

As those scheming men, Liam Bonner is tall, lanky and full of mischief as Guglielmo. His remarkable baritone shimmers. And David Portillo returns to OTSL with his crystal clear tenor voice and also joins in the fun displaying some excellent acting skills. The essence of the plot is that the two ladies, when asked to make a choice of the two “Albanians,” choose the ones who are not their fiances- thus enhancing the true test of their fidelity.

Jennifer Aylmer just about steals the show with her brassy, bawdy rendition of the maid, Despina. Not only is this perky soprano a delight in her manipulation of the two ladies, but she gets to don disguises as well- an addle-brained doctor and a less than competent judge. She is remarkable. Rounding out the cast is James Maddalena as Don Alfonso who piques the interest of the boys in the first place by claiming that no woman on earth can resist the temptation of a man’s advances- even if she is devoted to her husband/fiance. The sly baritone pulls out all the stops in order to win the bet he has made with the gentlemen and appears to pop up in the oddest places at precisely the right moments.

Rachel Willis-Sorensen, Jennifer Aylmer and Kathryn Leemhius in Opera Theatre’s “Cosi Fan Tutti.” Photo credit: Ken Howard

Referring back to the subtle change that makes all the difference in this production of “Cosi Fan Tutte,” director Shell has put the happy couples into the customary stage poses for a happy finale, but, in the blink of an eye before the stage goes dark, something happens that gives a definite modern sway to this centuries old piece. It’s quite a surprise and, although we know the story has always been exceedingly sexist, this really gives a new twist to it. Also, the Jeremy Sams English translation of the Lorenzo Da Ponte libretto offers a much freer hand than most translations we’ve seen. A bit off-putting at times, but it works. Conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni has the St. Louis Symphony in a definite fast-tempo pace and it is delightful. I don’t envy the singers as those intricate quartets and sextets have to be difficult to sing- Mozart led the way for Stephen Sondheim, that’s for sure.

The rest of the technical team shines as well. The simple, effective and cleverly changing set design of James Schuette works beautifully as do his lovely costumes- particularly the outrageous designs he has put on our pseudo-Albanians.  Add the always brilliant lights designed by Christopher Akerlind and you’ve got the total package. In fact, this is probably the best all-around production of the season so far. Everything works.

“Cosi Fan Tutte” offers gorgeous Mozart melodies, and though there’s no real outstanding arias, they’re all beautiful. It’s a great addition to what has been a fantastic year so far for Opera Theatre- St. Louis. Catch it in repertory with three other shows through June 22nd. Call them at 314-961-0644 for tickets for more information.

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3 Responses to “Acting And Singing Highlight OTSL’s “Cosi Fan Tutte” With A Subtle Twist That Changes Everything”

  1. Rasmus Grand Says:

    You’ve switched the names of the leading ladies. Fiordiligi is teh reluctant sister who leads the cast and has two arias, expertly sung by Rachel Willis-Sørensen. Dorabella is the more willing sister, sung by Kathryn Leemhuis. It is a wonderful show!

  2. Bittersweet Symphony Instrumental Blog Says:

    Cosi Fan Tutte Tickets…

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