Opera Review: COSÌ FAN TUTTE (San Francisco Opera)

Post image for Opera Review: COSÌ FAN TUTTE (San Francisco Opera)

by Harvey Perr on November 26, 2021

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


I am beginning to yearn for a production of Mozart’s Cosí fan tutte which takes place, as originally intended, in its own time. The last three productions I’ve seen took place in a Long Island diner in the 1990s (courtesy Peter Sellars’ highly gestural version) or Coney Island in the 1950s (the most recent Met version) and now Michael Cavanagh’s handsome production at the San Francisco Opera which takes place at a country club in the 1930s. Arbitrary? Attempts to find universality? I suppose that, as long as Mozart’s gorgeous score can be heard, it should make no difference, but I am not totally convinced that it makes no difference.

But back to matters at hand.

Cavanagh’s loving staging, brought vibrantly to life by the graceful and lively conducting of the impossibly youthful Henrik Nanasi, is what is important here. The period depicted results in some exquisite costumes by Constance Hoffman, which adds to the merriment. In accompaniment to the overture, Erhard Rom’s graphics put us in absolutely the right mood and his set designs, including some Watteau-like exteriors, are subtly ravishing. We are clearly in the hands of artists who care both about the convoluted goings-on of Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto and the darker tones of Mozart’s beautiful music which cuts through the silliness to get to the lessons learned about infidelity and its consequences.

And, of course, there is the remarkable cast that has been assembled; the singing soars and the performances manage to be comic and grave at the same time, which befits an opera buffo that has a sense of the tragic under its light surface, beautifully made clear in its final moments. No spoiler here, but it’s different and it’s surprising. Ben Bliss as Ferrando and Nicole Cabell as Fiordiligi are particularly in fine voice, but the playful Guglielmo of John Brancy and Dorabella of Irene Roberts are more than a welcome contrast. And Despina, the maid who takes on some witty disguises, is a delight in Nicole Heaston’s perky presence. The weak link in the opera’s sextet is Ferruccio Furlanetto’s Don Alfonso, whose cynical manipulations set the complicated plot into motion; he seems a bit too lacking, dramatically and vocally, in force and wit, which are essential to his character. But this is mere quibbling. This was a genuinely lovely and utterly delightful production of one of the greatest operas, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, ever written.

But there remains the question of why so many contemporary directors seem determined to place Cosí fan tutte in different eras. Well, as long as they remain faithful at heart to Mozart and Da Ponte, as Cavanagh definitely does, it’s a discussion that is separate from what cheerfully takes place on the stage.

photos by Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Cosí fan tutte
San Francisco Opera
War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave
ends on December 3, 2021
for tickets, call 415-864-3330 or visit SF Opera
$10 standing room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance

Comments on this entry are closed.