The Dallas Opera officially opened the Winspear Opera House last fall with Verdi’s Otello. But then came a three-month hiatus, so Friday night’s performance of Mozart’s Così fan tutte had something of the air of an opening night, too. It started the company’s winter-spring schedule in which operas will alternate, allowing patrons to take in two different operas on weekends. Donizetti’s Don Pasquale will partner with Così starting next Friday.
Friday’s performance seemed a good omen for the new system. The singing and orchestral playing were pleasant, the cast was uniformly stage savvy, sets and costumes were attractive, and the direction toyed with some new ideas without doing violence to Mozart and Da Ponte.
Così fan tutte is very much an ensemble opera in which none of the six soloists runs away with the show. I guess I was partial on Friday night to the two senior members of the cast, Thomas Allen as Don Alfonso and Nuccia Focile as Despina; both sang well and displayed a flair for comedy. But the two pair of lovers added much to the performance. They were Elza van den Heever and Michael Todd Simpson (Fiordiligi and Guglielmo) and Jennifer Holloway and Brian Anderson (Dorabella and Ferrando). Van den Heever’s “Come scoglio” and Anderson’s “Un’aura amorosa” were two high points that left lingering memories.
The singing cast had excellent, sensitive support from company music director Graeme Jenkins in the pit.
Director John Cox updates the story a bit. This Così seems to be taking place early in the 20th century, say around the time of World War I. Designer Robert Perdziola’s sets, atmospherically lighted by Duane Schuler, place the action at a fashionable seaside resort. Other than that, the production doesn’t deviate much from Da Ponte until the very last scene, when a strange group of soldiers (apparently buddies of Guglielmo and Ferrando) marches in. This is mystifying. The two didn’t actually march off to war; they stayed behind in disguise, so they shouldn’t have any war buddies. Cox also has quite a few supers or chorus members appearing in nonsinging roles.
Also, it appears at the end that the two pair of lovers are going to switch partners for good — not a new idea though a little unusual.
All in all, a lively production, with minor innovations that do no harm and often enhance the performance.