By Sasha Schechter
This semester’s opera, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte, took over Hall Auditorium with gusto.
From the impressive set design, complete with rotating platforms and convincing marble paintjobs, the production was impressive and proved itself hilariously entertaining. The opera focuses on two sisters, Dorabella and Fiordiligi, who are madly in love with two soldiers, Guglielmo and Ferrando. Don Alfonso, a friend of the two soldiers, makes a bet with them that, should they pretend to be shipped off to war and attempt to seduce the two sisters under false identities, the women would indeed fall in love with no concern for their absent fiancés. This bet is executed with the help of the sisters’ maid, Despina, and eventually, Alfonso is right: the women fall in love with the false identities, and the three men sing together, “Cosi fan tutte.” “All women are the same.”
Despite the horribly sexist themes of this opera, which no doubt had feminists all over campus stewing, what ensued onstage Saturday night was what I call brilliance. I have never been one for opera, and Oberlin’s opera productions are notorious for having mediocre actors with fantastic voices. This production, however, completely blew me away with how well it was presented and acted. Perhaps it was the fact that director Jonathon Field has encountered this opera in his career before, but there was a clear understanding of the material among the singers that was brilliantly portrayed through the acting.
I was particularly impressed with third-year Summer Hassan’s performance as Dorabella: from her brilliant mezzo-soprano vocals to the spot-on portrayal of her character’s vapid nature, she displayed a deep understanding of the opera’s content, and a natural ability to play off of other characters to enhance her own.
Fifth-year Stafford Hartman, who played the other sister Fiordiligi, was not as on top of her acting as the other cast members; however, all was forgiven when she opened her mouth and sang with one of the most lovely soprano voices I have heard at Oberlin. Hartman’s technique was fine-tuned and quite the crowd-pleaser.
Cree Carrico brilliantly played Despina, the fierce feminist character in this opera. It is no secret on campus that Carrico has a background in and love for musical theater, and it certainly helped her in this role. She skillfully sang in three different voices throughout the night: as Despina, as Despina disguised as a doctor, and as Despina disguised as a notary. It takes talent to act in a role, but it takes talent and skill to act in a role acting in a role without looking campy. Carrico is both talented and skilled, and gave the crowd many reasons to burst out laughing throughout the night.
I must highlight the three male leads in this show: Chad Grossman, who played Ferrando, had brilliant moment after brilliant moment both in his lovely tenor vocals and in his pointed physical actions. Joseph Lattanzi, who played Guglielmo, was equally brilliant in his vocals and acting; his facial expressions in the second act, while trying to seduce Dorabella in his disguise, are some of the most memorable parts of this production. And of course, Gerard Michael D’Emilio, who played Don Alfonso, stole the show on many occasions with his subtleties and inspiring vocal performance. In other words, Cosi fan Tutte’s Wednesday/Saturday cast was filled with wonderful singers who could also act wonderfully, which made for one of the most entertaining evenings in theater and music this entire semester.
The one criticism I offer would be the use of the stage in Hall Auditorium. The theater’s acoustics virtually disappeared when anyone stood behind the archway built into the set. Unfortunately, many of the Chorus parts were sung behind this archway, as well as quite a few of Carrico’s and D’Emilio’s parts. Anyone who was placed too far back was drowned out by even the softest notes sung towards the front of the stage, which occasionally threw the performers off of the harmonies and tempos. Additionally, the staging of the chorus, which was small and felt underutilized, felt awkward at times, as, in pairs, chorus members would march in time to the music being played with clear embarrassment on their faces. Luckily, these errors were few and far between, and the audience remained entertained and in stitches the entire evening. As the saying goes, “I laughed, I cried!” And I loved Cosi fan Tutte.