- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2001

Sept. 13 proved to be an inauspicious time for the Washington Opera to open its new production of Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte" ("They All Do It") at the Kennedy Center Opera House.
The decision to mount this fluffy, comic opera with its mildly scandalous plot two days after the loss of life and destruction at the Pentagon and New York's World Trade Center caused by terrorists no doubt was a difficult one. But the company rightly determined that the show should proceed.
That this opening night was not the most sprightly "Cosi" in recent memory was understandable. In addition to the company's having to contend with the week's tragic events, soprano Ainhoa Arteta was ill. She bravely chose to perform anyway, but was not in top form.
"Cosi," a comic masterpiece, with its sprightly libretto penned by the irrepressible Lorenzo da Ponte, unfolds a tale of girlfriend swapping, Italian-style. Ferrando and Guglielmo, two dashing young gentlemen, are in love with beautiful sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi. But genial older roue Don Alfonso, convinced that all women will cheat if given the opportunity, bets his young compatriots that their lady friends are no different. In a comic ruse, the young men supposedly go off to war but return disguised as passionate and exotic Albanians to see if the women will fall for them which after much protestation, they do, proving Alfonso's contention that "They all do it." But the ladies' fall from grace, aided by the maid Despina, does not prevent a happy ending. After all, it was the guys' dirty trick in the first place.
The singing in this production is a family affair. Tenor Richard Croft, reprising his role in the company's 1996 production, and his brother, baritone Dwayne Croft were in top form as Ferrando and Guglielmo, respectively. Richard's well-articulated lyric tenor voice proved to be a fine contrast with his brother's more boisterous and aggressive approach.
Soprano Miss Arteta (Fiordiligi) and mezzo Joyce DiDonato (Dorabella) served as excellent foils to the men. Miss Arteta is the real-life wife of Dwayne Croft. Miss DiDonato gave a superb performance, with an authoritative, powerful voice that nailed each note cleanly but expressively. To compensate for her illness, Miss Arteta gave a comic but musically mannered performance.
Soprano Marguerite Krull was impressively comic as the puckish maid Despina and infused a bit of life into a somewhat staid evening. Miss Krull's worldly young servant not only soared in a couple of choice arias but also managed to impersonate both a notary and a mesmerist with a wonderfully over-the-top sense of slapstick.
As Don Alfonso, Italian bass Simone Alberghini sang his mildly buffo role with a bit more thoughtfulness than we are accustomed to in "Cosi." He acted more like a professor of love than a wily trickster. This part can be a weak link in this opera, but Mr. Alberghini skillfully deployed his surprisingly light bass voice with a delicate touch.
To give Miss Arteta a hand, other cast members proved somewhat restrained in the ensembles, adjusting their voices to retain the proper musical balance. Thus, the music was sung tastefully, correctly and, in fact, nicely but rarely brilliantly.
This production avoided the problems in the company's last outing with "Cosi" in 1996. The sets on Sept. 13 were restrained but crisp, soloists were well placed onstage, and the orchestra was in fine form under the able baton of the company's music director, Heinz Fricke although a French horn spoiled some beautiful moments with clunkers. The chorus, briefly used in this work, was spirited and well rehearsed. The costuming was elegantly tasteful right down to the more outlandish Albanian garb, which avoided caricature, although barely.
One can quibble, however, with Michael Hampe's restrained direction of this production, from Santiago's Teatro Municipal in Chile. The approach gave the work a more serious tone than the composer probably intended although some of this could have been due to the tragic events of the two days preceding the opening. Nonetheless, a more broadly comic "Cosi" is preferable.
The week was a tough one in which to mount a frivolous comic opera, even a time-honored Mozart masterpiece such as "Cosi." Miss Arteta's indisposition made the going even more tenuous. Yet, on the other hand, this was the perfect opportunity to witness stars at work overcoming adversity. Miss Arteta brilliant in Giacomo Puccini's "La Rondine" a couple of seasons back sang well with what she was able to muster. Her fellow singers adjusted and compensated, and all combined to bring the audience a lovely evening of opera under difficult circumstances. This is an ensemble that, like chef Emeril Lagasse, will certainly be able to "kick it up a notch" when everyone is ready.

* * 1/2
WHAT: The Washington Opera's production of "Cosi Fan Tutte"; in Italian with English surtitles
Kennedy Center Opera House, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW
7 tonight, 8 p.m. Tuesday and Friday and 2 p.m. Sept. 30
$63 to $130


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