Repertory Opera’s Cosí fan tutte charms and delights

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Brian Farrell conducts the performers from the grand piano at stage left.

Mozart’s lighthearted comedy on the fickleness of women is one of my favorite operas, and Repertory Opera Company’s current production does not disappoint. Delivering an ensemble of well-rehearsed and vocally capable singers, the sparkling music of 18th century Viennese opera buffa style comes thru beautifully under the expert guidance of LizBeth Lucca, Artistic Director, and Brian Farrell, Music Director and accompanist extraordinare. Muting his piano’s tones when playing under the singers, Mr. Farrell then plays out as if performing in a concert hall during the orchestral breaks, with every note ringing through the sanctuary. His technique, accuracy and musicality are a joy, as well as watching him conduct the ensembles from the piano (standing to cue singers as needed, without missing a note!)

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Raul Matas (Guglielmo) and Matt Dunn (Ferrando) relish their manly mustaches.

By cutting the opera’s overture, the production plunges straight into the opening trio with Don Alfonso, Ferrando and Guglielmo debating the existence of faithfulness in women. John Hansen, as Don Alfonso, is a seasoned performer on the stage, with a booming bass that convinces the young men he knows something more about love than they do. Accepting his challenge that they test their sweethearts’ fidelity, Ferrando and Guglielmo each insist that their own darling will never betray them. Raul Matas, as Guglielmo, creates a brash and cocksure character who enters the wager enthusiastically, swaggering onstage in his mustachioed disguise as an Albanian suitor for Dorabella. Matt Dunn, as Ferrando, is more tender-hearted and sentimental but takes on his new identity bravely, matching Guglielmo with his huge, black false mustache and sporting a mass of thick, black curls on what was previously a clean-shaven pate. Topping off their costumes with a dark orange cloak and a red fez, the suitors bring their characters alive with the silliness of their garb and their obvious enjoyment of the charade. Matas’ ringing baritone easily fills the sanctuary, and Dunn’s light, sweet tenor carries well with all his romantic musicality.

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The sisters’ apartment with principals, L to R: Amber Peters, Bonnie Snell-Schindler, Raul Matas, Matt Dunn, Maureen Davis and John Hansen.

Amber Peters, as Fiordiligi, and Bonnie Snell-Schindler, as Dorabella, instantly transform the onstage energy when they appear in frilly pink gowns on a super-feminine set (lime-green and fuchsia) and pour forth their gorgeous treble sounds in the duet, “Ah guarda, sorella. Ms. Peters shines with a full vocal range and lush lyric resonance, and Schindler’s buttery-smooth mezzo is rich and totally satisfying. Maureen Davis is an impishly sassy Despina, altering her pure, soaring soubrette to match her character as she impersonates first a highly questionable doctor, who heals the poisoned Albanians through the use of a huge magnet, then a conveniently-available judge, who oversees the phony wedding contract between the sisters and the Albanians. An actress with some serious credits, Davis brings considerable charm and comic color to the ensembles.

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Fiordiligi and Dorabella watch in horror as “doctor” Despina diagnoses Guglielmo and Ferrando, who suffer from self-administered poison.

The chorus, coached by chorusmaster Kevin Wiley, is small and strong, numbering twelve singers who clearly enjoy their music and choreography as the local villagers. ROC’s performance moves rapidly and smoothly through a complex story which, though sung in Italian, has recitatives spoken in English dialogue to help the audience follow the plot. (Nevertheless, I highly recommend reading the plot summation in the program before the start of the show.) Costuming, by Diana Smith and Grace Verhoeven, is well done in every scene, adding considerably to the effectiveness of the story.

The opera is performed in a church sanctuary before two stage sets designed by Anne Henderson, simple and spare, ingeniously installed and changed with a minimum of time and fuss. The performance venue provides a spacious and comfortable environment with good visibility of the performers.

With fine solo performances by all the singers, it was a surprise to realize at the end of the show that what had come through most powerfully was the flavor and character of Mozart himself and of his music. The charming style and bright tempos, combined with excellent ensemble singing, acting and staging, resulted in a delicious afternoon of elegantly mischievous comedy, credibly performed in the style of the original composition. And what a pleasure to have found it just a short distance from home.

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Two performances remain in this run:

Saturday and Sunday —April 5 & 6, both at 2pm

Visit ROC’s website

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