Review by David Richards
Toronto ON February 6th 2019
Despite all the symbolism and dark side of deceit and infidelity, the comedic intensions of the opera were there throughout. Ferrando and Guglielmo leave (ostensibly to go to war) and return as Turkish Janissaries ready to woo each other’s girl friends. They are aided and abetted by Despina (Tracy Dahl) who appears first as a maid, then as a doctor and finally as a notary to perform a wedding ceremony. Her commedia dell’ arte characterizations st0le the show.
The production has more of a Canadian flair than just the appearance of MacKinnon and D’Angelo. Veteran performers Russell Braun and Tracy Dahl were superb, vocally and theatrically. The remaining leads, Ben Bliss and Johannes Kammler were the international performers. I heard Ben Bliss at the Met in December in The Magic Flute. He was superb there and his clear-toned tenor voice rang true last night. Kammler was new to me and I was impressed with his theatrical spontaneity. He sang with a rich, warm tone quality that balanced well with the ensemble.
Cosìwill continue its run through to February 23rd with seven more performances. Strauss’s Elektra is running concurrently with five more performances through to February 22nd, both at the Four Seasons Centre.
(L-R) Johannes Kammler as Gulielmo, Emily D’Angelo as Dorabella, Kirsten MacKinnon as Fiordiligi and Ben Bliss as Ferrando in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Così fan tutti (2019); Photo Credit: Michael Cooper
A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Così fan tutti (2019);
Photo Credit: Michael Cooper
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COC brings a sparkling Canadian flair to Così fan tutte
Does it get any better than last night’s musical experience? My first thought is I'm not sure that it can. From the start of the evening, a musical suite for the supper of the King of France, to the culmination, Bach's resounding second Brandenburg Concerto, the instrumentalists of Tafelmusik played expertly, with precision, sensitivity, nuance, and grace, and, just as importantly, they performed as a very well co-ordinated ensemble, perfectly together in time and tuning.
(L-R) Kirtsten MacKinnon as Fiordiligi and Emily D’Angelo as Dorabella in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Così fan tutti (2019);
Photo Credit: Michael Cooper
The orchestra and chorus were both up to their usual high standards. Led by the Mozart and early music specialist Bernard Labadie, the orchestra gave a spirited and clean performance. The Québec Founding Conductor of Les Violins du Roi, Labadie has appeared often in Toronto to conduct the TSO and COC in Mozart programs. (He conducted The Magic Flute in 2017 while also on the podium of the TSO.) The Price Family Chorus Master, Sandra Horst, had the chorus in fine form.
It is always exciting to see home-town talent reach the pinnacle of their field, whether it be in the arts, sports or commerce. To see the swimmer Penny Oleksiak on the Olympic podium after winning the gold medal was a source of pride for Canadians. There are many such examples. In the world of opera, there is an elite group of fourteen singers including Teresa Stratas, Judith Forst, Ben Heppner and Isabel Bayrakdarian who have won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finals over the past 60 years. Naturally, they went on to illustrious international careers.
In this production of Così, there are two winners, the 2016 winner, mezzo soprano Emily D’Angelo and the 2017 winner, soprano Kirsten MacKinnon. They have both previously performed on the COC stage and both had their Metropolitan Opera debuts at Lincoln Centre in New York. To see them together performing leading roles as sisters was very special. They performed together in duets with an uncommon blend. Their arias were all delightfully sung. Their acting had a playful school-girl quality with a spirit of sisterly love. For me their moments together were the highlight of the opera, and there were indeed plenty of these moments. There is little doubt that they will both reach the super-star status of these other names mentioned.
The winter season of the Canadian Opera Company continued last night with a revival of Atom Egoyan’s production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte at the Four Seasons Centre. After a run of annual Mozart operas, this will be the last for a bit anyway. Next season’s schedule won’t be including anything by the 18th century master. It will feature operas by Puccini, Dvořák, Rossini, Humperdinck, Verdi and Wagner.
I missed the original imaginative Egoyan production of Così in 2014, so with this performance Egoyan’s symbolism and puzzling suggestions were new to me. The opening overture contained the suggestion that perhaps the two sisters would be in on the deceit to be carried out by their lovers, certainly not Mozart’s idea or that of his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. Egoyan took the alternative title of the work, A School for Lovers, and accordingly set the opera in a 19th century finishing school. The sets and costumes, designed by Debra Hanson, added to the symbolism with suggestive butterflies floating above the garden and the painting The Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo on the front stage curtain and later projected onto a scrim during the second act added to the dark side of the production with hearts torn out and dripping blood.
The opera began with Don Alfonso (Russell Braun), the schoolmaster-philosopher, teaching his students about the vagaries of love. He bets two of his students, Ferrando (Ben Bliss), and Guglielmo (Johannes Kammler) that their fiancées would not be faithful if given temptations over the course of a day. Fiordiligi (Kirsten MacKinnon) and Dorabella, her sister (Emily D’Angelo) resist the temptations of the disguised lovers, but eventually give in, thus posing the problem of who will marry whom. The issue is left as a question at the opera’s conclusion.
Tracy Dahl as Despina and Russell Braun as Don Alfonso in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Così fan tutti (2019); Photo Credit: Michael Cooper