by Monika Beal, Lister reviewer
No longer the new kids on the block, Pasadena Opera has successfully established itself as a leader in producing quality theatrical work. Their unique spin on Mozart’s classic sitcom Cosi fan tutte was helmed by director Jonathan Lynn, bringing a long career in film to the stage. His fresh look at the operatic classic delighted the audience on Friday’s opening night performance. The dynamic range of characters and alter egos portrayed by each of the main players took the audience right out of a theater with beautifully simple projections of 1967 San Francisco. The satisfying production transports the text to the height of the Vietnam war, giving Mozart’s classic a free-love spirit, but with a psychedelic glow.
Baritone Gregorio Gonzalez provided a charismatic and vocally commanding Don Alfonso, genuinely enjoying the advantage of his superior military rank by ensnaring his two officers, sung by baritone Jonathan Beyer (Guglielmo) and tenor Jonathan Smucker (Ferrando), into a bet about their fiancées’ fidelity. The flower-people chorus, and the girls’ feisty maid Despina (sung by Karin Mushegain) scheme with Don Alfonso to win his bet. Julia Heron Metzler (Fiordiligi) and Michelle Rice (Dorabella) aptly play the initially steadfast sweethearts who, with the right prodding, slowly meander into drug-induced escapades with their incognito, duplicitous darlings.
Costume designer Jacqueline Saint Anne, who also hails from the film industry, curated a winsome, eclectic palette for the entire cast, featuring roller skates, embroidered bell-bottoms, and a Lady Gaga-esque notary disguise. The chorus’ background work in the “shrooms” scene, in particular, had us in stitches (the actors elevated stoned shrooming to appropriate high camp – pun intended) while the main players got lost in their chaotic love quadrangle. Guglielmo (Beyer) seized the moment with his aria, “Donne mie, le fate a tanti”, by traipsing through the aisles, using the audiences as props to hilariously explore his angst about the fairer sex.
The production took notable liberties with the text, loosely translating the original Da Ponte libretto to include topical concerns and pop culture icons of the day. Pasadena Opera seized the zeitgeist of the present, as well, recapturing the anti-war pleas and gender mores of its imposed era and showing their relevance today. As a result, the sexual politics of Cosi fan tutte felt more timely than ever: although women are accused of being the source of flighty, fickle love, the final assertion of “so do all lovers” made for a fitting and satisfying end.
To the organizational leadership, technical design, and the musicians’ technique – bravi tutti!
UPDATE: For some unknown period of time, the byline for this article apparently took a hiatus. Apologies to Monika Beal, who covered this event!