Mozart’s comedy, “Così fan tutte,” transplants well, if not perfectly, into the contemporary setting of today’s Seattle — as evidenced by the frequent laughter and enthusiastic standing ovation on opening night at Seattle Opera.
With its farfetched plot, “Così fan tutte,” which premiered in 1790, is tough to stage convincingly for a modern audience. In Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto, the worldly and cynical Don Alfonso is convinced that women do not have the capacity to remain faithful. When his young friends Guglielmo and Ferrando rhapsodize about the fidelity of their fiancées, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, Alfonso provokes the men into a bet to test the loyalty of the two sisters. The men feign being summoned to war and secretly return in disguise to endeavor to seduce each other’s fiancée, under the instruction of Don Alfonso.
This Seattle Opera revival production of British director Jonathan Miller’s “Così fan tutte,” first seen in Seattle in 2006 and directed here by Harry Fehr, does a decent job with the challenging plot.
Local and current references make Miller’s boisterous rendition funnier and more relatable to contemporary viewers. Cell phones are everywhere, with characters texting and snapping selfies throughout. Television cameras film Guglielmo and Ferrando heading off to war. Characters mic drop, hair flip and play air guitar. The Dothraki language from HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” is among the clever present-day references in the supertitles by Seattle Opera’s Jonathan Dean.
On opening night last Saturday, British conductor Paul Daniel and the Seattle Opera Orchestra helped keep the comedic opera light on its feet while offering a counterpoint to the darker moments. As did the singers, both musically and with their pitch-perfect characterizations of mutable youthful ardor under Fehr’s stage direction.
Between the singers’ mannerisms and Cynthia Savage’s costume and hairstyle update, I couldn’t help but see the Kardashians and Paris Hilton — certainly their younger selves — in Ginger Costa-Jackson’s Fiordiligi and Marina Costa-Jackson’s Dorabella. (Yes, two real-life sisters are playing the opera’s fictional sisters.)
Equally effective, Savage outfits Guglielmo and Ferrando first in trim suits and then, for their undercover return, as hipsters in sunglasses, long-haired wigs and tattoos.
Amusing and affecting as the embattled Fiordiligi rigorously defending her honor, soprano Marina Costa-Jackson displayed a thrilling vocalism that blazed through the prodigious leaps in her arias, generating the longest applause for an individual singer. Ginger Costa-Jackson was a wonder as Dorabella, Fiordiligi’s flirtatious sister, with a dark-hued, vibrant mezzo.
Although Tuomas Katajala has a warm caramel tenor that was especially lovely in his paean to his love, Un’ aura amorosa, his voice also showed a steely backbone when his Ferrando was enraged. Craig Verm’s honeyed baritone coupled with his Guglielmo’s confident sexuality when disguised left no doubt he could seduce one of the sisters.
Kevin Burdette was a natural as the instigator of the opera’s action, the suavely manipulative Alfonso. He could command a scene with a mere gesture or his richly polished bass. As Despina, the sisters’ personal assistant who first appears bringing lattes to her employers, Laura Tatulescu was delightful in her insubordination and her impersonations of a lawyer and a doctor — plus she rocked her high notes.
Occasionally I found myself irritated by the sexism threaded through the libretto. However, whenever that would happen, the production would change direction and some witticism or artful piece of staging would draw me back into the opera’s charms and Mozart’s gorgeous music.
Seattle Opera’s “Così fan tutte” plays at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St.), through Saturday, Jan. 27. Prices $25-$250. To purchase tickets, or for more information, call 206-389-7676, or visit www.seattleopera.org.
MAGGIE LARRICK is a freelance writer who lives in the Seattle area.