Reviewed by Tony Villecco
If there were any concerns about the effect of what General Director Reed Smith has described as the “significant changes” made this year by our local opera company, they clearly were dispelled last evening (Oct. 13) as I witnessed the final dress rehearsal for Mozart’s delightful “Cosi Fan Tutte” at The Forum. Tri-Cities Opera’s production officially opens Friday (Oct. 15).
Under John Mario Di Costanzo, the already-fine TCO orchestra never has sounded better. The playing was much tighter, cleaner and brighter than in some of the past productions I have seen. Di Costanzo’s attention to detail in every aspect of the score brought a crisper realization of Mozart’s brilliant writing for instruments and his understanding of the human voice. After a marvelous reading of the opera’s overture (the theme of which is repeated near the end of the opera), Di Costanzo, TCO’s new music and associate artistic director, was consistent throughout in guiding the musicians to realize a nearly perfect ensemble.
“Cosi” is a comic tale of love — its trials and tribulation — focusing on the ability to trust your partner and in some cases, maybe play a game or two to assure one’s fidelity. Soprano Julie Hamula as the tormented sister, Fiordiligi, has improved immeasurable in her acting and has corrected a tendency to go flat. Her voice is lovely and strong, well-focused and bright. Her two fiendishly difficult arias were sung brilliantly. “Come scoglio,” a showpiece for sopranos because of the daunting range and typical Mozartean roulades, showed both a spinning top and, for one so young, an impressive chest register as well.
As her sister, Dorabella, mezzo Cabiria Jacobsen was a revelation. The voice, though not overly large, had a rich and warm tone, and she acted up a storm. Particularly effective in the many trios and ensembles, Jacobsen promises a bright vocal future and is surely one to watch as her career ascends.
Tenor Kirk Doughterty continues to impress both vocally and with a tangible stage presence. As Fiordiligi’s lover Ferrando, Doughterty proved once again that here is a tenor on a path to greatness. The voice has a beautiful timbre, with a ringing top, and there is something very sincere in his delivery. This alone sets him apart. One of Mozart’s most stunning arias, “Un’ aura amorosa,” was a joy to hear, though he tended to end phrases a bit soon and cheated us out of that delightful trill at the aria’s conclusion.
William Roberts as the delightfully conniving Don Alfonso continues to impress with his comedic acting abilities and a strong baritone not lacking in either energy or volume. On occasion, though, he tends to push, which produces somewhat of a “wobble” in the flow of sound. Still, Roberts has now become a TCO veteran, creating unforgettable characters with each company production.
Joseph Flaxman, a last-minute replacement in the role of Guglielmo (Ferrando’s compatriot and lover to Dorabella), sang well. His timbre is unique, with a very pleasing, almost “smoky” quality to the tone that complemented his duets with the tenor.
The crafty and winning staging by Nelson Sheeley, assisted by Judy Berry, gave plenty of comedic turns to all involved. Some clever moments came early on as the sisters were on the veranda painting and later when the maid, Despina, disguised herself as a physician. As the poor, misused and maybe misguided Despina, soprano Kathleen Jasinskas was a joy to watch. Some of the opera’s most comedic moments come with Despina. Jasinskas sang with a lovely, bright and light soprano. The majority of her singing was very fine, although with a slight brittleness in her upper register.
Overall, especially for a dress rehearsal, this production appears to be a knock-out, and we can rest assured that TCO should have a long and bright future ahead. Change, while no doubt difficult and oftentimes uncomfortable, is sometimes warranted. The changes here have produced a renewed sense of energy and, I believe, will spur the creativity in all areas involved.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the lovely sets by Dan Carter, and the lighting by Joe Beck added volumes to the atmosphere. The TCO Costume Shop provided period pieces in perfect silhouettes; the dresses and uniforms were standouts. Special mention must be made of John Isenberg’s fine chorus direction, most all offstage, as well as his playing of the score’s recitatives.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Performances of “Cosi” will be at 8 p.m. Friday (Oct. 15) and 3 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 17) at The Forum, 236 Washington St., Binghamton. For tickets, call 772-0400, or visit www.tricitiesopera.com.