Checkmate swapping

By Lawrence A. Johnson


Mozart’s operas can handle a variety of approaches, and the Frost Opera Theater’s current chessboard production of Cosi fan tutte is as clever and eye-catching as many more expensive professional stagings.

The University of Miami’s Frost Opera Theater has enjoyed more consistent outings from its student musicians this season, and vocally, Friday night’s performance at Gusman Concert Hall is about what one would expect, with lightish student voices giving Mozart’s score their best efforts.

Cosi, with Mozart’s glorious music and Lorenzo da Ponte’s sharp-eyed libretto, remains eternally fresh, perceptive in its take on the folly of the human heart but essentially benevolent in its view of the two mate-swapping couples.

If the technical challenges were often beyond their grasp, all of the principal singers brought admirable individual qualities to the production.  No doubt, for these young artists, the chance to perform one of Mozart’s greatest operas provided its own considerable rewards.  

At Friday night’s second-cast performance, for once, the two female principals made a plausible pair of sisters. Soprano Lauren Levy was a game Fiordiligi, at ease on stage and singing a worthy Come scoglio. As Dorabella, mezzo Carol Perry delivered an admirable Smanie implacabili and showed fine comic flair, with her expressive face registering every twist and turn of the scenario. 

Rishi Rane as Ferrando also brought solid comic instincts and energy to the evening, displaying sensitive phrasing in Un aura amorosa, yet his underpowered tenor seemed to run out of steam after Act 1. Conversely, Christian Schwebler as Guglielmo was less effective in the comedy but his robust baritone was the most impressive voice in the cast. Andrew York was a serviceable Don Alfonso, and Anna Hersey, a spirited if vocally inconsistent Despina.

The chessboard unit set offered an apt, visually striking metaphor for the romantic game that is played out by the two mate-swapping couples. The action was fluidly directed by Dean Southern, and Dina Knapp’s delightful costumes offered a stylish black-and-white Magritte motif with trenchcoat, bowlers, umbrellas and green apples for the chorus.

The student musicians of the Frost Symphony Orchestra did their best as well but Mozart’s exposed writing is merciless and there were more than a few moments of scrappy ensemble and wayward intonation.  Even with the lapses, conductor Thomas Sleeper brought more verve and sympathy to the score than most opera conductors heard regularly downtown.

[Pictured from left: Lauren Levy, Rishi Rane, Carol Perry and Christian Schwebler.]

Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte will be repeated 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at Gusman Concert Hall, 1314 Miller Drive, Coral Gables. $20, $10 seniors. 305-284-4886.

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Sat Feb 28, 2009
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