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Opera review: Los Angeles Opera's 'Così fan Tutte'

September 19, 2011 |  3:30 pm

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Los Angeles Opera opened its 26th season Saturday evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with an anemic, sexless new production of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.” On Sunday afternoon, the company unveiled a sexy, red-blooded new production of Mozart’s “Così fan Tutte.” The difference was, so to speak, night and day.

“Così" begins with two overconfident youths, about to marry sisters and about to have their understanding of women tested. Ferrando sings a short line about his Dorabella, vowing that nothing could sway her faith. Saimir Pirgu’s tenor was reedy but sword-sharp.

Guglielmo echoes the sentiment. His Fiordiligi is honest as the day. Here Ildebrando D’Arcangelo revealed, in but seven sprightly measures of the score, an opulent bass-baritone with enough presence to rock the Pavilion.

Photos: Los Angeles Opera's 'Così fan Tutte'

That’s all it took to signal something special. The young cast of this “Così” is cause for celebration.

Cosigallerypromo As with “Onegin,” the production was a 2006 British import. But the “Così," directed by Nicholas Hytner and staged in L.A. by Ashley Dean, comes from Glyndebourne (“Onegin” was a Royal Opera original). It is full of dramatic nuance and has mildly controversial moments of sexual aggression and implications of misogyny. It is, at the very least, opera as strong theater.

Mozart’s last comedy, and his most lyrical opera, contains some of the composer’s sunniest music and has its share of laughs and slapstick absurdity. But “Così" is also a melancholic men-are-from-Mars and women-are-from-Venus work that poses profound questions that befuddle us still.

Two sisters are deceived by their fiancés, who accept the wager of the cynical Don Alfonso that their women are unsusceptible to seduction. The opera’s Italian title is loosely translated as “All Women are Like That.”

The game begins when Ferrando and Guglielmo pretend to go off to war and return disguised as rich Albanian philanderers. Each ultimately gets his way with the other’s lover. The women are blamed -– but forgiven.

Before feminists get their knives out, please consider that Mozart made the women more complex and interesting than the men. And that also includes their wily maid, Despina. If the relationships with their original partners will endure (or even if they switch partners), it is clearly the women who will be the mentors of the men.

Hytner’s production offers a sunny set that looks late Victorian/early Modern, along with period costumes in pale, pleasing colors (all by Vicki Mortimer). The acting is realistic. There is carnal chemistry between the partners. Hytner’s ending rejects Mozart’s struggle for something more selfless, less logical, more meaningful. This is a too-easy way out, but it is also the least sentimental, most believable way.

And one thing this performance had Sunday was believability, even when the opera was at its most farcical. The sexual attractions felt real. So did the betrayal. Lovers struggled with their emotions, and the audience wasn’t asked to choose favorites.

D’Arcangelo (Guglielmo), a  draw in recent years in Salzburg’s Mozart productions, is the best known of the singers. Last week, Deutsche Grammophon issued his new CD of Mozart arias and the label is marketing him as a hunk. Be that as it may, he sings with tremendous command of color and feeling, and is a compelling actor. Before long, his name on a marquee will be enough to sell out any house.

Pirgu, who appeared in Woody Allen’s production of “Gianni Schicci,” proved a properly prancing Ferrando. And how often does a “Così” get an actual Albanian tenor impersonating an Albanian? Lorenzo Regazzo’s Don Alfonso was unusually youthful -– not the older man of the world instructing young nincompoops, rather a misogynist nincompoop out to make the trouble.

All three women lit up the stage. Aleksandra Kurzak, a Polish soprano who has just released a dazzling CD of arias on Decca, was an affecting, soulful Fiordiligi. Ruxandra Donose, a Romanian mezzo-soprano who survived L.A. Opera’s “The Fly” three years ago, portrayed a buoyant Dorabella. A discovery was another Romanian mezzo, Roxana Constantinescu, a Despina with depth and a sparkle in her eye and voice.

James Conlon, the company’s music director, is a Mozartean with a surplus of adrenaline. A little relaxation wouldn’t have hurt the more lyrical ensembles in the first act, but he had a cast that liked being driven hard, and that’s what he did. There wasn’t a dull moment.

“Così fan Tutte,” Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Saturday and Oct. 5; 2 p.m. Oct. 2 and 8. $20-$270. (213) 972-8001 or www.laopera.com. Running time: 3 hours and 25 minutes.

RELATED:

Opera review: Los Angeles Opera's 'Eugene Onegin'

Opera review: L.A. Opera's 'The Fly' is a monster mash

Opera review: 'Il Trittico,' the Los Angeles Opera

-- Mark Swed

Photos: top, left to right, Saimir Pirgu, Ruxandra Donose, Aleksandra Kurzak, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo; below, Roxana Constantinescu. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times.

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