Newton: Maestro Harry Bicket Delivers Mozart’s Best In A Minimalist Production

Amanda Majeski (Fiordiligi)Jarret Ott (Guglielmo), Rod Gilfry (Don Alfonso), Ben Bliss (Ferrando) and Emily D’Angelo (Dorabella). Photo by Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera.

Los Alamos

On opening night of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte I eagerly tapped into Cori Ellison’s understanding of this opera I’ve treasured for decades.

I already knew that it is Charles MacKay’s favorite opera, and Ellison called it her “Desert Island opera.” Then added that Mozart is her favorite composer, echoing the Swiss theologian Karl Barth who said, “If I ever get to heaven, I would first of all seek out Mozart.”

Ellison pointed out that Mozart was the master of every musical genre of his time, using tonality the way a symphonist would, and developing characters by contrasting them in ensembles.

Upon entering the Crosby Theatre one observes a very minimalist set. The Director R. B. Schlather has chosen to dispense with decorations and get to the core of the interactions of the characters. The scenic design by Paul Tate de Poo III is a geometrical arrangement of flat surfaces. In Act I the characters assume geometric patterns on the stage, and move down into the trap room below. In Act II the set has been turned on its side so that fenestrations in the stage left walls show the steps to the Act I traps and become the means of access and egress for the characters.

Another item that Schlather has stripped away are the traditional personal props like the lockets the sisters have of their Adonis and Apollo lovers.

A conceit of this production is that Mozart’s school for lovers is a scientific experiment conducted by Don Alfonso ably assisted by Despina, the maid of the sisters.

Schlather also chose a Western aesthetic — an American iconography for the Land of Enchantment. Costume designer Terese Wadden, a 1999 Apprentice Technician in her SFO Debut, not only dresses the characters as innocents that need schooling, but as the macho types the men become under the tutelage of Don Alfonso.

orabella is the first sister to fall for the “stranger” Guglielmo dressed in an emerald tux. Guglielmo is confident that his Fiordiligi will remain true to him and believes that he is a better suitor than Ferrando. Under that yet to be proven false belief we see him slinking in in his skivvies and Dorabella is seen upstage wearing his tux.

DaPonte’s libretto suggests that just as women are fickle, men are jealous. In this production the director views the men returning as strangers is a mirage, and that perhaps we might see ourselves reflected in some of the characters.

Mozart included choral music in Act I, Scene 5 and for three scenes in Act II. This staging has not been cluttered by putting the chorus before our eyes. Thankfully we get to hear them performed by 16 Apprentice Artists from the low range of Bass-baritones to the upper range of the sopranos.

We are very rewarded by the courageous vision of the SFO Company bringing to our stage this sui generis Cosi. JAX Messenger as lighting designer shows the characters with great purity and the shadows behind them are a dance fusion.

Cori Ellison closed her Prelude Talk with the assertion that this dream team has the best cast in the world. Maestro Harry Bicket commands them superbly. I hope to hear him conducting Cosi at the Met Opera some Saturday between 15 February and 14 March 2020 with our Ferrando, Ben Bliss repeating that role.

Initially the sisters and their lovers are naïve children, but as the plot thickens and they are prodded to be more adult, the costumes become striking tuxedos and ball gowns.

Last Saturday the weather threw a zinger at the tailgaters and the audience. Winds scattered unoccupied chairs and menu items. A thunderstorm provided pre-performance drama.

Personally I suffer from hearing loss that requires lots of amplification and amplified wind is a hindrance. I did learn that selecting the “Telecoil(mT)” program instead of the “Live Music” program worked best.

When an August performance of Cosi is likely to have favorable weather, I will return for another spectacular evening at the opera. It will be an opportunity to further explore my perceptions of this unique production.

Jarrett Ott (Guglielmo), Emily D’Angelo (Dorabella) Photo by Ken Howard for The Santa Fe Opera, 2019.
Amanda Majeski (Fiordiligi) Photo by  Ken Howard for The Santa Fe Opera, 2019