Saturday, March 23, 2019

Cosi fan tutte at Skylark Opera

Skylark Opera Theatre is a dang Minnesota treasure. Go see their delightful production of Cosi fan tutte, tell your friends, and support their innovative, beautiful work.

When: March 22 - 31
At: The Historic Mounds Theater
Running Time: About two hours with intermish  

"Skylark Opera Theatre throws a modern new light on the story of two guys who think they can dupe their girlfriends by switching places. But the women have their own power and they aren’t afraid to use it! Mozart’s gorgeous score is sung in English in this immersive production, set in the present day."

What We Thought:
Let's be honest: Opera can feel abstruse to the newcomer. It can be long, dull, melodramatic, and distancing. You have to dress up and applaud at the right times. It's an Important Night Out. Skylark's adorable and hilarious Cosi fan tutte is the polar opposite of that. Set in the present-day in New Rochelle, New York and sung in English, this translation of Lorenzo Da Ponte's 1790 libretto features modern-day references while keeping within the original feel of Mozart's work.

KrisAnne Weiss and Tess Altiveros
Photo by Matt Bellin
This production takes place at the Historic Mounds Theatre on the east side of St. Paul, a movie house built in 1922 which is now a intimate and charming theater venue. The concessions stand is openfeaturing specialty cocktailsand the smell of popcorn is hard to resist. In the house, a runway extends into the audience, and the comfortable seating is angled perfectly to see the action from all sides.

The cast is simply outstanding. For the opera lover, there is nothing like hearing beautiful arias sung by amazing artists in an intimate space. The six-person cast of Tess Altiveros, KrisAnne Weiss, Laurent Kuehnl, Justin Spenner, Siena Forest, and Luke Williams is outstanding. Not only do they sing in English (with excellent diction), but they add humor and emotion without shortcutting the music. Also, there's no planting and ranting here. This cast moves about the stage and theater with ease and aplomb.

KrisAnne Weiss, Laurent Kuehnl, Luke Williams, Justin Spenner and Tess Altiveros
Photo by Matt Bellin
The set is sparse, with music director and pianist Nathan Cicero onstage for all of the action. Elegant furniture from various time periods is strewn artfully around the stage in disarray, a visible representation of casting off the formal and traditional bounds of opera. Cicero is the lone accompaniment for the singers, but the music never felt lacking. Instead, this setting showcases the gorgeous voices filling the space. And when the six actors all sing at once, it is a veritable wall of sound, unhindered by amplification. It's glorious.

We meet Ferrando and Guglielmo (Laurent Kuehnl and Justin Spenner) hoisting beers with their friend Don Alfonso (Luke Williams) in a bar. Don Alfonso suggests a bet, which he says will prove that women are all unfaithful, which Ferrando and Guglielmo proclaim their fiancées will handily win with their fidelity. Sisters Dorabella (KrisAnne Weiss) and Fiordiligi (Tess Altiveros) would be right at home in a reality television show. Their cynical maid, Despina (Siena Forest), agrees to help Don Alfonso to trick the women into falling for two strangers, who are actually their fiancés in disguise.

Siena Forest and Luke Williams
Photo by Matt Bellin
Comic melodrama ensues. The four lovers are alternately heartrending with their pleas of love, and hilarious when the masquerade begins. The acting is every bit as good as the singing in this production, and some of the contemporary touches in the dialogue are really hilarious, especially as delivered by Williams, who is a perfectly charming manipulator with devastating comic timing. As his conspirator, Forest plots against her employers and throws herself into every disguise she takes on.

And all of this madness is set to some of Mozart's most beautiful music, beautifully sung. All of the singers are wonderful, but Altiveros has some of the most poignant music as Fiordiligi, and when she simply sits on the stage to agonize over her feelings, it's magical.

As Robert Levine writes in Weep, Shudder, Die: A Guide to Loving Opera: "What makes us love Figaro, Cosi Fan Tutte, Don Giovanni, and The Magic Flute is what makes us love all great works: they are beautiful and timeless, funny and profound, sublime and ridiculous."

Never was this more so than in Skylark's delightful production. This is a short run, so get your tickets now and don't miss this operatic treat!