Magical Mozart from Opera Theatre
by David Sckolnik
A musical spell was cast last night at First Christian Church in downtown Colorado Springs. For those who were enchanted by it, it is unlikely that its musical beauty and theatrical magic will release them anytime soon.
The principal purveyor of this was one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart through his last completed opera buffa, “Cosí fan tutte.” The parties that made this possible were the Opera Theatre of the Rockies and the Chamber Orchestra of the Springs. Although the orchestra dug in and assured the spirit of this last 18th century masterpiece was honored, it was the six principal performers who truly ignited the experience. Their vocal excellence, always organically spun from the context of character, made the almost three hours needed to tell this story fly by with ease.
Then there was “the elephant in the room.” In this case it was the room, or rather the worship hall of the church. Thursday night’s “Opera Theatre Goes to School” dress rehearsal was in Shove Chapel; last night’s opener was in First Christian; today’s final performance at 3 p.m. is in First United Methodist Church. All are far from ideal venues for the art form.
Last night the realization of the coveted “suspension of disbelief” that all theatre strives to achieve was an uphill struggle throughout. There were no sets or lighting to really speak of; entrances and exits were often un-seeable; and much of the character hi-jinx was lost through poor audience sightlines. While the Gypsy Ames/Jan Avramov designed period costumes for the six principals were good enough, the fine Opera Theatre of the Rockies Chorus were dressed in modern black and white. So it was next to a miracle that this production, engineered and stage directed by Opera Theatre’s founder and artistic director Martile Rowland, found its wings at all.
That aside, the ebullience and engagement of “Women are Like That,” Cosi’s English title, was finely wrought. Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte poke delightful fun at men and women alike. The two couples that go through swapping fiancés toward completing a bet all end up playing the fools. This 2 ¼ century old “museum piece” reads as fresh and confronting today as it was when it first shocked the Viennese court.
Mezzo soprano Jennifer DeDominici as the starry-eyed Dorabella, baritone Chad Reagan as the boastful and boisterous Guglielmo and soprano Karla Hughes was the mischievous maid Despina were the consummate pros of the production. Their comedy caught all the right notes and their voices were always delightful. Hughes deserves special praise for bringing vocal lyricism to a role so difficult to make beautiful.
The three other principals were not far behind. Our Fiordiligi, soprano Michelle Diggs Thompson, awed the audience with the power and beauty of her voice while gaining theatrical steam as the evening wore on. Tenor Humberto Borboa lovingly rendered Ferrando never even hinting at the difficult vocal hand he was dealt. Although the young and aspiring baritone Paul G.L. Grosvenor was a late addition to the cast he had little issue realizing the elder philosopher and protagonist Don Alfonso. The voice was clear and expressive and he performed without any theatrical missteps.
The Chamber Orchestra’s Thomas Wilson is to commended for keeping vocalists and instrumentalists on the same page throughout. Balance was always spot on and the few times singers and orchestra lost synch did not undermine the overall musical impression. Same can be said for the orchestra itself. Although flaws popped up from time to time, they kept to the grindstone always honoring the genius of Mozart.
Rowland added some charming and entertaining theatrical devices that were happily embraced by her cast. It’s hard not to wonder what this production could have been if all the elements of the theatrical experience had been employed. That possibility should be seriously considered by the cultural conscience of this community. Fine work such as this deserves stalwart financial and logistical support.