Cori Ellison's program notes for the Met's Cosi fan Tutte, which I'm going to admit right now I didn't make it through (the notes, not the opera) began, as all program notes for Cosi must by law, with a discussion of that darned title. So hard to translate! CE offers up two possibilities: All Women Act Like That and So Do They All or something superficially more literal like that. And then she writes about how it's either a loopy comedy or--and actually at this point I sort of hooted with laughter, possibly causing some consternation among my row-mates--"a proto-Freudian nightmare." CE knows a hell of a lot more about opera than I do, but I mean, in all seriousness...
I'm gonna make a little suggestion to solve both problems. Directors who think it is one of those two things should pick which and bill the opera accordingly, and I'll let you match the title to the mise-en-scene, as either "Knock knock! Who's There?" or "Fuck!!! Fuck!!! We're all fucking Fucked!!!" Because I don't see how you could really go to the opera expecting either extreme and have a nice time or be remotely satisfied. It's just not hilarious now, if it ever was, and unless you were born in 1850, its commentary on human nature is hardly going to make you wake up screaming. Ok so annd then, if there's a director who's a grown-up, he can put the whole thing together a bit less simple-mindedly and call it Cosi fan Tutte and let the audience take the trouble to look up three goddamn words of Italian. Actually, Peter Sellars did a famously weird but also I think happily complicated rendering of the whole thing, and his suggestion was Women are Bathmats.
A couple of the singers last night fell squarely into the knock-knock school, to my way of thinking. Well, mostly Nuccia Focile. She sang nicely and put on a cute comic performance. The notary shtick was no more excruciating than usual. I have no real complaints but, yeah, I kept sort of wishing for someone else, something more. At least someone with a voice you can bite into and chew, aurally speaking. Marius Kwieczen, too, was a bit buffo for my tastes, but it was harder to get worked up about it because his voice is so rich and healthy, it's a pleasure just to soak in it. That said, the difference between a heartbreaking "Il Core vi dono" and a throwaway version is just that, just what he doesn't really have.
I think I should say, by the way, that I'm in the process of being critical about all but one voice, oh and one conductor, but really you could only consider the evening a triumph of ensemble and an overall resounding success.
You know, the audience seemed to love Frittoli most of all, and I'm not 100% sure why. The voice is there, and she's fun to watch, but if we're going to be horrible, picky opera people, the triplets in Come Scoglio weren't there, the low-lying stuff that makes it a bitch of a role were iffy, and what the hell is someone so young doing with a beat in the voice up top?
It's a pleasure, perhaps even an honor to hear Thomas Allen, a real artist by any account I'd reckon, and a definitively lovely voice, though it's dried up in places.
And I've saved the best for last. I don't have a lot to say about Matthew Polenzani except that at times he sang so sweetly I thought I'd die from it. Levine, too, I will dote on briefly: I didn't realize he had such effervescent Mozart in him, and was delighfully surprised.* Magdalena Kozena, on the other hand, I have a lot to say about.
Magdalena Kozena: Hot Mezzo. Yep, no doubt about it, she's cute, and I am notably not the very first to notice les belles femmes. So I at some point began assuming she'd be mediocre, a sort of Bo Skovhus with tits. [I hope in voicing doubts about purdy singers I have not offended La Canadienne, whom I have not heard in person but whom reviews confirm is rather more than just a looker!] Then I heard the disc where she sings in about six languages and was intrigued but not bewitched. Then I heard her Varvara in Kat'a and thought: aright, aright, she's got the goods. Then I heard her Dorabella and almost had to leave halfway through to have her face tattoo'ed upon my bicep. Not really.
She's for sure a dugazon, not a red-velvet-cake-voiced borderline contralto. But the voice has face, a distinctive vibrato. And technique to burn, it would seem to me. And she's an artist, a real one. "E Amore un Ladroncello" is the test--it's not an inherently gripping aria. In fact, at the mercy of most of its exponents, it's a trifle. Put someone like Kozena in it, however, and it is a spellbinding three minute story about love, the kind of material for grownups I started to go on about earlier. I think the key is you have to sound a little bit nuts, but not annoyingly so, like that friend most of us have who's just a bit too intense about things but once in a while you catch on that she's half laughing about it herself. Kozena as Dorabella actually reminded me of a real live friend of mine, and I find it's a rare enough occasion that an opera portrayal is specific enough to do so that I think I'm going to have to go and see her in whatever else she and the Met agree she's going to sing in New York.
Well, this has gotten out-of-hand verbose. Perhaps its a good thing I'm probably not seeing anything else until...well, maybe I'll go to Romeo et Juliette.
*Oh also I don't know whether to credit the fanciful but tasteful [what an awful word...all I mean is non-ostentateous, several notches in clunky kooky-ness below let's say the old Leinsdorf set] ornamentation to the singers of Maestro L.