The Metropolitan Opera's esteemed musical director, James Levine, took the podium for one of his signature works, Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte." This opera contains some of Mozart's most stunning ensemble writing and the performance's success relies heavily on the cast's ability to coordinate and animate these demanding ensembles. Yesterday's cast had great vocal chemistry, but the conviction of the characters varied noticeably from performer to performer.
Susanna Phillips and Isabel Leonard, in the roles of the two sisters, Fiordiligi and Dorabella respectively, shared a similar vocal timbre, making their paralleled harmonies smooth and supple. Phillips handled the expansive range and vacillating rhythms of her Act I aria, "Come Scoglio," with a command that would characterize her strong portrayal. As Act II progressed, the genuine conflict and shame Phillips' afflicted Fiordiligi feels had the audience sympathizing with her even after her betrayal. In the midst of a comedy that satirizes human flaws, Phillips' Fiordiligi was refreshingly real. Vocally, Isabel Leonard was exquisite and the consistency of her tone lent itself particularly well to ensemble singing. As the fickle Dorabella, however, Leonard was adequate, if not a little static.
The two lovers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, sung by Matthew Polenzani and Rodion Pogossov, were clear-voiced and sure-footed. Polenzani never sang the same phrase twice in the role of Ferrando; his pliant tone constantly found new inflections for repeated material. He displayed comic aptitude, but also sensitivity in his tender "Una Aura Amorose" and impassioned "Tradito, Schernito," arousing pity for the blissfully naive lover. Pogossov was dashing and witty in the role Guglielmo and his warm, inviting tone exuded masculinity.
Don Alfonso, sung ably by Maurizio Muraro, is the instigator of the whole farce and abetting him is the feisty chambermaid Despina, sung by the young mezzo-soprano, Danielle de Niese. De Niese sang with impressive accuracy and articulated Despina's lively vocal runs nimbly, but her tone was sounded slightly constrained. She had moments of comedic success, but her exaggerated gestures and expressions were too contrived to support a developed character. Muraro's hefty bass voice provided a nice contrast to the lighter voices of the cast and, though his character seemed good-natured enough, his cruel ploy did not end quite as happily as in other production of "Cosi Fan Tutte." Phillips' anguished Fiordiligi carried an air of humiliation through the final scene and Pogossov's slighted Guglielmo was far from forgiving. Though Don Alfonso tries to convince his friends that nothing has changed and that their fiancees aren't to blame for their infidelity, the damage is done and the couples are reluctant to accept one another, ending the comedy on a slightly glum, if not more realistic note.
The clean-cut production was neat and simple. The sets and costumes were picturesque with light splashes of color, but, more importantly, provided an unobtrusive space for the convoluted story to unfold in. Levine managed the balance between stage and pit superbly and drew a lively sound from the orchestra throughout the course of the performance.
This broadcast of "Cosi Fan Tutte" will be aired in movie theaters once more on April 30 via Fathom Events.