There was a shorter gap than usual between Edmonton Opera productions in this truncated season. Only two months ago, the company staged a solid three-night run of La bohème. On March 19, it opened a new production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, with sundry newcomers to the Jubilee Auditorium stage.
The director, Kim Mattice Wanat, founder of Opera Nuova, Edmonton’s opera post-grad training program, made her EO debut with this show, and in it proved determined to put a modern gloss on the antiquated message of da Ponte’s libretto. The usual translation of the Italian title disparages women, implying they have limited control over their sexuality and are susceptible to infidelity at the slightest opportunity. Mattice Wanat revised the usual “All women are like that” translation to read “We are all like that.” In the end, though, the comic plot remained da Ponte’s, and we were free to assign judgment to either sex for their willingness to succumb to temptation. The male lovers show their shallow commitment to their fiancées, as they always do in Così, as well.
Despina appears in multiple guises in any Così, and here the shape-shifting became a recurrent bit of stage business as soprano Caitlin Wood, dressed in a tight, red body suit to represent a Cupid figure, donned the attire of a wacky doctor of mesmerism, a notary, and, of course, the manipulative maid. The changes occurred as the opera unfolded. The effect wasn’t exactly Brechtian, but our attention was frequently divided. It must be said though that Deanna Finnman’s Regency-period costuming and the other wardrobe touches were one of the most appealing aspects of the show.
On opening night, the singing was uneven. Wood, an Alberta native, has appeared with EO in principal roles several times and her growing experience as a complete opera performer shone through. Besides the quality of her vocal craft, she exudes her pleasure in performing. She moved through her roles so light-footedly that if the director had decided to interpolate a dance interlude, I would have found that completely reasonable. Baritone Clarence Frazer as Guglielmo and soprano Jennifer Taverner as Fiordiligi consistently projected deep into the large hall. Taverner, making her EO debut, was the stronger of the two voices in scenes with her sister Dorabella (Stephanie Tritchew). Tenor Asitha Tennekoon as Fernando began close to inaudible in ensemble moments, but when out on his own he made his mark.
In general, except for Wood’s comings and goings through the plot and Neil Craighead’s interventions as Don Alfonso, the theatrical chemistry between the players was utilitarian. The poisoning scene, when Fernando and Guglielmo, disguised as Albanian officers, fake suicide to win sympathy from the two sisters, was appropriately goofy, but the melodrama could have been cranked up a notch.
Brianna Kolybaba’s stage design was set in the era of Jane Austen, and the touches conveyed a comfortable middle-class feel of the time. Backdrops had their own separate, mainly decorative message, billowing waves and paisley-like swirls, presenting a place where, notwithstanding the plot’s allusion to ongoing war, these characters were under no real threat.
The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra was trimmed to a mere 19 players for this production, the smallest I’ve ever seen at the opera. It was led by ESO Assistant Conductor Cosette Justo Valdès, also making her EO debut. The orchestral impact was inevitably modest.
More on Edmonton Opera’s upcoming season & events here.