From left to right, baritone Joshua Hopkins, soprano Mary Elizabeth Mackenzie, tenor John Bellemer, and bass Tony Dillon in Madison Opera's production of Cosi fan Tutte.
Madison Opera's production of Mozart's Così fan tutte ("All women are like that"), was a musical feast and a visual delight, ideally fitted to Overture Center's Capitol Theater.
The performances last Friday and Sunday were shared with the Sarasota Opera, typical of today's company collaborations. The simple all-purpose set was beautifully elegant. Costumes and props were richly comprehensive. Marcus Dilliard's lighting was subtle but effectively managed. Within such ideal context functioned a superb team of singers who could act, and vice versa.
Madison repeaters were bass Tony Dillon, of last season's The Tender Land, as a worldly manipulator (Don Alfonso), and soprano Mary Elizabeth Mackenzie, of a past Carmen, as an acidulously pert chambermaid (Despina). All new to Madison were four handsome young singers as the two pairs of lovers.
Tenor John Bellemer (Ferrando) and baritone Joshua Hopkins (Guglielmo) have light, clear voices -- the latter almost verging on tenorhood himself -- but they handled deftly all vocal demands. They interacted neatly with their betrothed counterparts, both particularly strong singers. I was initially more impressed by the rich tones of mezzo-soprano Laura Vlasak Nolen (Dorabella), but I soon succumbed to soprano Jessica Jones (Fiordiligi), especially when she conveyed her character's genuine pain and anguish in the moving Act II aria "Per pietà".
Stage director Kristine McIntyre clearly played the piece for comedy, with constant, lively movements, vigorous action to match the vocal histrionics, and endless fine details. Conducting the score (with only the two standard cuts) from the harpsichord, another Madison newcomer, Kelly Kuo, ran a tight ship -- I only noticed one blur in the "laughter" trio in Act I on Friday evening. And I loved his clever keyboard noodlings into which he slipped at least two quotations from other Mozart scores -- the "Rondo alla turca" and the Don Giovanni Serenade.
From its creation in 1790, Così fan tutte has been criticized and scorned -- at first for its cynical "immorality," nowadays for its seemingly cruel misogyny. Actually, Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte built layers of understanding into this intricately planned "ensemble opera." Five of the six characters are caricatured for their self-delusions and romantic posturings. (If we swallow the emotional fragility of the fickle two sisters, we must also reckon the stupidity of their soldier fiancees in gambling on their ladies' fidelity; and the trickster maid is tricked herself.) In what I consider Mozart's most humane opera, the message is that we must all grow up before we can build mature relationships. Madison Opera's production gave us laughs but also food for thought.