25 February, 2012

Opera Review: Bavarian State Opera - Cosi fan tutte

Opera Review: Bavarian State Opera - Cosi fan tutte

February 25, CC Grand Theater
Bavarian State Opera - Mark Wigglesworth
Persson-Erraught-Kudrya-Molnar-Tatulescu--Allen (Cast A)
Mozart Cosi fan tutte

Despite my reservations about the "production values", this was likely one of the best night at the opera Hong Kong has ever seen. And in this most difficult of operas!

Top honors must be given to the orchestra and conductor Mark Wigglesworth, whom we had recently heard with the HKPO. Cosi is one of his specialties, and I am happy to report all the rave reviews had not been mistaken. From the start, the music making was of the highest order. It took a little while to settle into a breathing and organic whole, but fluidity was maintained despite the awkward intermission break. The orchestra played magnificently under Wigglesworth's lithe and sensitive direction. Such characterful woodwind playing that positively chimed along with the singers! The harpsichord continuo was discreet and pleasing, the balance just right.

The ladies stood out. Miah Persson was a little steely at first, but by the second half of the first act she had settled into the role of Fiordiligi, singing securely. I don't know what it is with Scandinavian divas, but they usually lack the last degree of warmth in their expression. Her Italian and acting were a little square, but that befit the more stately character, and nothing detracted from her tight partnership with Tara Erraught's coquettish and well sung Dorabella. The limelight was almost stolen by Laura Tatulescu's Despina. Her Romanian pedigree showed in her command of Italian and her acting too bettered the other ladies.

The men were good, but paled a little next to the ladies. Alexey Kudrya has a nice voice, but did not quite convey the (somewhat pitiable) vulnerability central to the Mozartian tenor role. Levente Molnar was competent as Gugliemo, but I'd have preferred a little more heft in the voice. Best was Thomas Allen as Don Alfonso, as usual secure and commanding.

The program note was very good in tracing how Cosi has been received. Indeed, in many ways I agree with Beethoven and Wagner on the inadequacies of the libretto. The notes correctly states that "...the challenge for the singers, and especially the female leads, is to convey seemingly genuine emotions without diminishing the comedy..." In this respect, I think the production has failed to strike the balance. I was not impressed by the cheap tricks, which detracted from conveying tenderness. The use of chairs is pretentious, to say the least, and inferior to the ways they are used in Chinese opera. A conventional staging that lets the comedy to come through the music would have been better.

It is an immense credit to the musicians that the music making went from strength to strength, and the second act was musically well nigh impeccable. A triumph!

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