Saturday, September 22, 2018
Stage

Sex, lies and Mozart get Florida Opera Festival off to a fun start

TAMPA — Infidelity still burns. If done effectively, romantic betrayal stirs emotions deep enough to rivet 21st century audiences. So, it is not hard to imagine how scandalized audiences in 1790 reacted when Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera, Cosi Fan Tutte, debuted in Vienna. Beethoven, a huge fan of Mozart, was crushed by the opera he saw as immoral because of its cavalier attitude around sexuality.

Opera Tampa kicked off its 21st season Friday with Cosi Fan Tutte, the first of three productions in the Florida Opera Festival at the David A. Straz. Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. It is a fun show.

The cast includes three "New Voices" (soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez, mezzo soprano Sarah Nordin and baritone Gabriel Preisser), up-and-comers the Straz is highlighting this season. As Fiordiligi, Lopez captivates with a rich and transfixing voice, one you could pretty much listen to all day. Nordin plays her sister Dorabella, and the two complement each other in some lovely duets and quartets.

The sisters are girlfriends to soldiers Guglielmo (Preisser) and Ferrando, played by tenor Cody Austin. The opera opens with the soldiers sipping coffee with an older friend, Don Alfonso (Won Cho), who challenges his buddies' infatuation with their lovers.

There is no such thing as a faithful woman, he tells them. All will yield, given the right temptations (hence the title usually translated as, "(Women) are like that." Cho's mellifluous bass baritone gives the message gravitas, as does his wager. Disguise yourselves as wealthy visitors, he dares, make advances and see if they don't take the bait. To make this loyalty test possible, the soldiers pretend to be summoned to war.

The men return as mysterious visitors, who try to seduce each other's girlfriends: Ferrando, who is normally with Dorabella, goes after Fiordiligi; and Guglielmo pursues Dorabella. Both men sing quite well. That said, operas tend to showcase tenors, and Austin in particular shines with Mozart's score.

The women reject their suitors' advances. The men toast each other. A second attempt also falls flat.

Don Alfonso has a counterpart in manipulation. Eileen Vanessa Rodriguez plays Despina, the sisters' maid and the imp who works on the women like the tree of good and evil. She also is a kind of clown, who sets the tone in this farce that mocks 18th century notions of chastity, made possible by an acid libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte.

"Pay attention to 100 men at a time," Despina counsels. "Keep 1,000 as possibilities." Rodriguez is a fine soprano. Hopefully, she will get a bigger shot soon. As it is, she carries the satirical spirit of the opera more than any other performer.

Fiordiligi and Dorabella eventually succumb to the strangers' advances (to exactly what degree, we're not sure), infuriating both men, who by then don't look so good either. Don Alfonso advises them to chill: "Laugh at yourselves," he says, "I certainly have been."

The production has a couple of baffling features, including a scrim that hides the set for the opening coffee scene. This backdrop is repeatedly jabbed by random light reflections off silver serving trays. A more serious obstacle is trying to read translation of the Italian lyrics at the top of the curtain in Ferguson Hall, at least 30 feet above the stage. A patron on the orchestra level must choose between watching the opera and reading the lyrics, because it is impossible to do both.

Though annoying, it's not much of a sacrifice if you're generous, which with this singing is probably a good thing to be. The orchestra led by artistic director and conductor Daniel Lipton also must be congratulated as the "12th man," an indispensable actor. Cosi Fan Tutte is, in sum, a promising start to the Florida Opera Festival.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

Comments
Despite the razzle-dazzle, ‘Chicago’ is starting to feel dated

Despite the razzle-dazzle, ‘Chicago’ is starting to feel dated

TAMPA — There’s a reason Chicago has been delighting audiences since 1975, and is one of the longest-running musicals in Broadway history. Jaded and funny, fast-paced and flamboyant, this sentimental journey to the tabloid culture still seems ahead o...
Published: 09/19/18
Find A Friend: Brooklyn the Terrier Mix

Find A Friend: Brooklyn the Terrier Mix

She’s going to make it by any means — got a pocket full of dreams — let’s hear it for Brooklyn. This 36-pound, soulful snuggler is a well-mannered maiden, past the puppy stage at age 5, and happily housebroken. She enjoys ...
Published: 09/19/18
On stage this weekend: Game of Thrones, Rocky Bleier, Florida Orchestra pops up

On stage this weekend: Game of Thrones, Rocky Bleier, Florida Orchestra pops up

PAGEANTRY AND PASSION: GAME OF THRONESThis ought to be fun for hard-core fans of Game of Thrones, which won its third best drama Emmy this week. HBO and Live Nation concert producers combined to create Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience, a big b...
Published: 09/19/18
On stage this week: ‘Chicago,’ ‘The Guys,’ Ginger Minj of RuPaul fame

On stage this week: ‘Chicago,’ ‘The Guys,’ Ginger Minj of RuPaul fame

RAZZLE DAZZLE: CHICAGO Broadway returns to Tampa in Chicago, the jazzy Bob Fosse cynical celebration of corruption and longest-running American musical revival of all time. Style is substance as Velma and Roxie compete for the limelight of a jaded p...
Published: 09/12/18
Review: ‘Heisenberg’ at Tampa Rep a hopeful expression for our times

Review: ‘Heisenberg’ at Tampa Rep a hopeful expression for our times

TAMPA — With the current state of things, the unlikely union in Heisenberg provides a refreshingly tender contrast to the divisiveness trolling our lives these days.Playwright Simon Stephens even went so far to say in Oakland’s East Bay Times that "t...
Published: 09/10/18
Updated: 09/12/18
Fall Arts Preview: Your guide to museums, plays, opera and classical music in Tampa Bay

Fall Arts Preview: Your guide to museums, plays, opera and classical music in Tampa Bay

Welcome the sweet approach of fall. Despite our current heat index, we’ll soon experience milder air, shorter days and too many things flavored like pumpkin.But in Tampa Bay, the true indicator of fall is the rebirth of local art. Our professional th...
Updated one month ago
Fall Arts Preview: Opera Tampa will premiere new opera by Anton Coppola, 101, and more

Fall Arts Preview: Opera Tampa will premiere new opera by Anton Coppola, 101, and more

Have you decided yet which operas you’re going to compose after age 100? If the prospect seems daunting (it does), consider that there is only one Anton Coppola, and only he expects this kind of productivity. Opera Tampa’s founding maest...
Updated one month ago
Fall Arts Preview: In a new season, Florida Orchestra expands reach, new top soloists

Fall Arts Preview: In a new season, Florida Orchestra expands reach, new top soloists

The Florida Orchestra has prepared a 51st season with a wide range of grand masters and newer work, an increased visibility for minorities and women and more collaborations with museums and other artistic institutions. Masterworks highlights include...
Updated one month ago
Fall Arts Preview: Light and dark, classic and groundbreaking round out Tampa Bay theater

Fall Arts Preview: Light and dark, classic and groundbreaking round out Tampa Bay theater

Theater mirrors our world and enlarges it, responds to current events, and allows us to glimpse the present by retelling the classics. Just touch this lineup of shows. In the palm of your hand you can almost feel tremors of anxiety about racial tensi...
Updated one month ago
On stage this week: Tampa Bay Theatre Festival and more 'Hedwig'

On stage this week: Tampa Bay Theatre Festival and more 'Hedwig'

BETTER THAN EVER: TAMPA BAY THEATRE FESTIVAL If you haven’t been to a Tampa Bay Theatre Festival yet, you really don’t know what you’re missing. The festival, now in its fifth year, offers a ton of original entertainment, learning ...
Updated one month ago