COSI FAN TUTTE
CONDUCTOR: Alexander Fokkens, with the Gauteng Opera Orchestra
CAST: Nozuko Teto, Annemarie Steenkamp, Teresa de Wit, Phenye Modiane, Aubrey Lodewyk, Douwe Bijkersma
VENUE: Opera, State Theatre Pretoria
UNTIL: March 7 at 7.30pm and Sunday, March 9 at 3pm.
RUNNING TIME: 192 minutes, including interval
RATING: 3 stars (out of 5)
The newly established Gauteng Opera’s debut full-scale opera production, Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte, was an excellent choice. The last professional staging of it in our region was in 1999. The music itself is glorious. This is most definitely, notwithstanding that this is pure opera buffa (comic opera), Mozart’s most hedonistically inclined work in this genre.
In Edward J Dent’s pioneering Mozart’s Operas: A Critical Study (1913), he wrote: “Così Fan Tutte is the best of all Lorenza de Ponte’s librettos and the most exquisite work of art amongst Mozart’s operas… though no composer but Mozart could ever do it justice.”
He also especially refers to “… the delicate filigree of Da Ponte’s comedy”.
This production is a mixed success with problematical elements in both the staging and musical aspects, but at least consistent in bringing out the best in the intended humorous stage business. Marcus Desando has a sharp eye for anything that can be histrionically comical, but also for the subtleties of movement, body language and human interactions.
The star attraction is soprano Nozuko Teto in the role of Fiordiligi – one of many of our vocal export products who will no doubt slowly but surely reach for international stardom. She has a strong stage presence, but even more impressive is the consistency of her vocal artistry. Her most extended aria, Per Pieta, Ben Mio, Perdona from Act 2, is a big, noble account, emotionally rich, well phrased and still only slightly under-developed in the chest tones for Fiordiligi’s dips below the stave.
Annemarie Steenkamp’s bright soprano voice is ideal for the brilliantly poised Dorabella she presented. She is already a subtle actress as well, but also vocally she suggested a quickening love in Il Vore vi Dono and a neat, light E Amore un Ladroncello.
As Ferrando the tenor, Phenye Modiane had some vocal problems. He basically has a well-centred voice, but it sounds at this stage not very varied and not always aesthetically even. His crucial moment is, of course, Un’aura Amorosa which he tried very hard to sing gracefully, but at times lacked the perfect control for it.
Aubrey Lodewyk (baritone) is smooth and appropriately insinuating as Guglielmo, with a touch of sensuality and a good deal of warmth in his voice.
Teresa de Wit, a darker soprano, was the real pro on this stage regarding style. Mozart expects from his singers: perfect timing, rhythmic correctness and fluidity. As a character she was lively and world-wise, with some attractive artifice.
As the afternoon performance progressed, baritone Douwe Bijkersma grew in his role and took control as Don Alfonso. His voice has a flowing edge, but can still develop in character.
The conductor Alexander Fokkens did sterling work in the pit, but will surely over time develop a firmer grip on this “engine room” of every opera performance. He led the singers and the choir well, but the necessary rhythmic precision was not always present in the choir’s singing.
One must question many aspects of the staging which might have jeopardised the singers’ achievements. Why was a stage built on top of the fixed stage and pushed so far backwards that it would compromise the singers’ projection and volume? Why install a second proscenium-like construction? And why was the stage not sloped?
One doubts if the singers could hear the orchestra properly, or perhaps hear each other because of this. Every time a singer came down to the level of the natural stage, their voices sounded much richer.
The scene changes took too long and why roll out carpets suggesting grass if no one in the stalls can see it?
Nevertheless: Arnold Cloete’s costumes were state-of-the-art and Nadine Minnaar’s sets chic.
The subtitles should have been proof-read.