Updated: Mar 20, 2019
★★★★☆ - Delicious
Sin City Opera highlights Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s comedic genius with their sumptuous, Steampunk-styled presentation of his Italian opera buffa “Cosi Fan Tutte,” in conjunction with Clark County Parks and Recreation and playing now at Winchester Cultural Center. Often translated as “Women are Like That” it was first produced in Vienna in 1790 and is a misogynistic story about the fickleness of women, but by performing the libretto of Lorenzo Da Ponte in English, speaking the recitatives, and emphasizing farcical aspects, the company creates a show more accessible to the modern spectator than it might be otherwise.
A boisterous production like this needs the response of an audience to really bring the comedy alive, and on opening night despite a sparsely-filled auditorium the skilled performers kept the energy high. There were a few glitches with entrances and pick-up cues and sometimes diction was difficult to understand, but backed by their own five-piece orchestra the singing was marvelous and true to Mozart’s exquisite sound.
Having elements of Shakespearian comedy and ancient myth, the story revolves around two young officers, Guglielmo and Ferrando, who have been convinced by older gentleman Don Alfonso that their lovely fiancees, sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, respectively, will never be faithful to them because that’s just the way women are. In order to prove Don Alfonso wrong they make a wager with him and together they devise a scheme to test the women’s fidelity.
In the garden the sentimental girls wax poetically about the virtues of their betrothed over the miniature portraits they wear, and Don Alfonso arrives to tell them that the boys have been called to service with the Red Wing. After a tearful goodbye they leave in an airship but soon return disguised as dashing foreigners, and with the help of Don Alfonso and maid Despina attempt to woo the sisters and confirm their faithfulness. But as is usually the case with plots such as this, things don’t go as planned and each of the four lovers unexpectedly falls for the wrong mate.
Director Tammy Pessagno coaxes excellent comedic performances from the cast. She shapes fun, campy bits as well as moments of sincere emotion, though the recitatives could use more polish as actors sometimes throw away lines. Music director and conductor Dean Balan provides strong support for the singers and leads his orchestra with an admirably relaxed and even pace. He achieves a pleasant level with his five pieces, which includes himself on keys, Christin Nance on flute, Bryan Wente on clarinet, Sharon Nakama on oboe, and Brian Marsh on bassoon.
You know that cliche about a voice being so high it could shatter glass? Soprano Katharine Gunnink surely fits that bill. As devoted Fiordiligi she is fetching and funny, melodramatically maintaining the indignation of her character even as she makes hitting all the notes in the infamously difficult aria “Like a rock” look easy.
Gunnink and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Sadownik as drama queen Dorabella look like opposites but prove a complimentary pair as the ditzy, lovelorn sisters. They share a hilarious duet where they lament their lost loves while also sobbing and stuffing their mouths with Doritos.
Sadownik is sensuous and earthy in her singing and her duet with bass-baritone Peter Johnson as Guglielmo called “I give you my heart” is incredibly moving as she surrenders hopelessly to his seduction not realizing she is being betrayed. Johnson is controlled and elegant, and his aria “My ladies, you do it to so many” is funny and charming despite his chauvinism.
Tenor Jorge Alexis Ortiz gives his Ferrando a wacky sidekick feel, and in his aria “Ah, I see it” he finds a nice depth of feeling at being rejected by Fiordiligi, though his voice wobbles a bit at the top and his diction in the recitatives is soft.
Soprano Athena Mertes plays scheming maid Despina with tongue firmly planted in cheek and a sly wink. She wisely understates the part, though more precision to her delivery in the recitatives would be nice. But her singing voice is clear and pure, and her aria “A woman at fifteen” is lovely to behold.
Bass Nathan Van Arsdale plays conniving ringleader Don Alfonso as an exuberant, snide dandy. His trio with Gunnink and Sadownik, the farewell song to the boys called “May the wind be gentle,” is one of the most beautiful and harmonious in the whole piece.
Ginger Land-van Buuren’s Steampunk costumes match Mozart’s music in their intricacy, full of texure with ruffles, satin, leather and lace, and decorated with elaborate gadgets. The scenic design of James Zobrist suits the Steampunk style with a rich, Victorian drawing room backdrop and rolling flats covered with photographs of a garden scene.
Sin City Opera’s “Cosi Fan Tutte” is a wonderful bargain at only fifteen bucks a pop.