UMD Opera Singers Entertain in Cosi fan tutte
Samuel Black, Duluth News Tribune
November 11, 2011
Thirteen young opera singers had a frolicking good time Thursday night at Weber Music Hall on the UMD campus. They entertained a small audience with their modernized rendition of Cosi fan tutte, one of Wolfgang Mozart’s last operas, and one of his most hysterical.
In short, two men about to be married wager that they could each seduce the other’s fiancee. By the middle of the second act, they are both successful. The opera concludes when all the masks are removed and the original couples are paired up, but the notion of mistrust is left hanging in the air.
I am very addicted to opera, so even these student performances are extremely enjoyable. Mozart’s music, in the year before his death, is rich and layered. The quartets and sextets dominate the high moments of the evening. Director Regina Zona created a minimal staging, with all the action taking place right out on the apron of the Weber stage. While the cast was dressed in current Manhattan evening attire, the opera was sung in Italian, with lots of playful mistranslation in the super-titles, creating a steady flow of laughter from the audience. Allusions to current street chat, war in the Middle East, pictures on iPhones, kept the audience looking at the text, even as the music filled the house.
Of the six primary characters, all three of the women could fill the room with their singing. Rebecca Farmer (Dorabella) was the strongest and most emotive as she loved back and forth between the men in front of her. Sarah Mehle (Fiordiligi) was a bright soprano who lyrically wavered between her lovers. Crystal Buck (Despina) changed from Madam to Notary, going back and forth from skirt to trousers in a variety of voice stylings. Meanwhile, Michael Binkowski (Guglielmo) was the only male voice choosing to reach every seat in this small auditorium. Dennis Shuman (Ferrando) was a very lyric tenor and Eric Meyer (Don Alfonso) was a rich baritone, but they both need to sing out to the house rather than simply to their partners on stage.
The dozen musicians in the orchestra, led by Jean R. Perrault, were far upstage and created an intimate chamber feeling for the performance. The sextet that ends the first act was particularly exciting, then, one by one, the four leads told their own story of amorous yearning during act two. Farmer and Mehle were exceptional in their rationalizations, leading them to love the man in front of them rather than the man of their betrothal. All were appropriately embarrassed when all the masks came off. The concluding sextet made it clear that relationships are tricky at best, and trust/mistrust will always be part of the human experience.
The opening night of UMD’s Cosi Fan Tutte was spectacular. In the small Weber music center, a chamber orchestra could be seen behind the performers. Set in modern day Manhattan Dr. Regina Zona put a new twit on Mozart’s opera. Each of the performers cast for this opera fit the comedic yet serious Italian Ideas.
A story of Betrayal and lust, yet set in modern day and sung in Italian kept the audience laughing throughout. From The Shakeweight, to Guglielmo and Ferrando’s out fits while in disguise this modern day twist would make any person love the opera.
Sarah Mehle as Fiordiligi took the audience captive. Her creschendos and high graceful notes melted the audience’s hearts in her confusion of love. Rebecca Farmer as Dorabella was the perfect diva of the opera. Her strong rich sounds, and blissful suduction kept the audience intrigued as to whether or not she would follow the vows she made to her lover. Michael Binkowski and Dennis Shuman had the audience’s sides splitting with their partnership. Their playfulness and poise showed true performers.
Overall the production of Cosi Fan Tutte was long but enjoyable. The three and a half hour opera kept the audience intrigued with its new age translations and settings, and the performance of well trained singers and actors.
The UMD Department of Music presented the opera Cosi fan tutte on November 11th. The music was by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the libretto was by Lorenzo da Ponte. It was directed by UMD faculty member Dr. Regina Zona. It was a great performance because of the acting, the director’s intentions with the production, and other performance factors (music, lighting, set design). This was a fantastic way to spend a Friday night.
Cosi fan tutte gets right into the plot with very little introduction at all. Two men are with an old friend, and the old friend does not believe that their fiancés would be loyal to them forever. So, as men would, they bet on it. The rest of the opera is filled with tears, laughs and betrayal (of more than one kind).
Eric Meyer (Don Alfonso) did a wonderful job of creating a character who could be a jerk at times and at other times "pretend" to be sad and heart broken. Sarah Mehle (Fiordiligi) and Rebecca Farmer (Dorabella) both did magnificent jobs portraying the two women that were to be tempted to be unloyal to their men. Every second of their performance was believable. Two of the leading men, Michael Binkowski (Guglielmo) and Dennis Shuman (Ferrando), had a great a chance to show off some acting skills by playing a main version of their characters and then playing a disguised version of their characters. They did this very well and it was almost as if two different actors were playing the parts. The most challenging of all the acting had to be for Chrystal Buck (Despina). Buck had to play Despina, a maid, and then Despina disguised herself as a doctor and Despina disguised as a notary. Buck did great and was absolutely hysterical when playing the notary. She dressed in full suit and spoke in a low manly voice. Overall, the lead acting was performed well. Some of the extra’s distracted from the performance and seemed to try and steal the limelight, while others did a bit of improv and added even more hilariousness to the show.
Zona’s intentions of this production seemed very clear. She wanted to entertain people with a modern day adaption of one of Mozart’s last operas. This was achieved very well. Zona took a lot of creative liberties with the translation of the Italian lyrics. Words like “bling,” “gangster,” “LOL,” and “ROFL” allowed some of the younger audience members to relate. Zona also set the play in Manhattan instead of Vienna where it was supposed to set. Zona’s biggest creative change was taken with the disguises of Guglielmo and Ferrando. In the original, the two men dress as Albanians. In this adaption, the two men are disguised as “gangsters.” Not a gangster from a mob but like a “gangster” that had crappy mustaches and gold medallions around their necks. This made for a hysterical opera that was well enjoyed by everyone.
The music was played by a chamber orchestra of 11 members. They were under the direction of Jean Perrault. The orchestra did not perform in a pit; they were actually onstage, behind parts of the set. They were all very in tune and the playing did not over power any of the singing at all. Everyone did a magnificent job singing and there is not anything that needed to be worked on. Everyone’s voice sounded great and balanced well with the chamber orchestra.
The set itself was very simple. It was four “walls,” giving it a homey feel, two tables and chairs, a kitchen buffet that held wine glasses and other props, and a round couch in the middle of the stage. The patterns of the chairs, the couch, the walls and the table cloth were all the same and made the set seem like a professionally designed home. The actors all used the stage very well. Near the end of the performance, a wine glass was set on one of the tables. The table was slightly tilted, and about ten minutes later, the wine glass fell and shattered all over the floor. This did not take away from the performance, the actors just pushed through it as if it were supposed to happen.
The lighting was also simple. At times the entire stage would be lit brightly but at somber moments the lights would be dimmer. At one point in the production, Guglielmo and Ferrando leave on a boat, the lights have a hint of blue on the stage to show the water and bring more realism to the performance. There was one downside to the lighting. During the middle of the performance, the person (not mentioned in the program) running the lights accidently made the stage blackout. They recovered quickly as the stage was instantly lit back up. The actors had no problem with the black out, they just sang on as it happened.
Cosi fan tutte was a great time. I, personally, cannot wait for the next opera that the UMD Department of Music puts on, because it should be just as fantastic as this one. This semester’s show was excellent and it would not have been the same without the great acting, Regina Zona’s directing, and the lighting and music and set design. Great job students!
Audiences in the Weber Music Hall at the UMD campus were in for a treat Saturday night. Plainly put, Dr. Regina Zona’s modern version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera “Cosi Fan Tutte” was a hysterical pleasure all around. To begin with, the simple scenery was more than adequate. Its elegant look, added with the phenomenal orchestra, made for a fantastic background scene. The orchestra, directed by Jean R. Perrault, sounded magnificent as they accompanied the main singers, as well as performing a truly beautiful overture at the beginning of the night.
The opera starts with three men: Don Alfonso (Eric G. Meyer), Ferrando (Dennis Shuman), and Guglielmo (Michael Binkowski) who make a bet that Ferrando and Guglielmo can’t get each other’s respective fiancée to break fidelity. They fool their fiancées Fiordiligi (Sarah Mehle) and Dorabella (Rebecca Farmer) into believing that that they have been summoned to war. When Don Alfonso asks that waitress Despina (Crystal Buck) plays along and tries to convince the women to move on and find new love in the disguised Ferrando and Guglielmo, the humor really starts to show. The mix of Shuman and Binkowski’s humor and expression, as well as Mehle and Farmer’s emotion and distress, really distinguishes each actors amazing talents, both in singing and in acting.
The singing throughout the entire opera was truly astounding. From Farmer and Mehle’s beautiful harmonies, Buck and Meyers wonderful interludes, and Binkowski and Shuman’s witty aside remarks, there was no corner of the concert hall that their voices didn’t reach. Though there were some parts where the dialect was drowned by the orchestra, they still came out ahead.
The modernization added to the opera made it all the more enjoyable. By incorporating humorous quips about the war in Iraq, the women showing pictures of fiancées on their phones, and using internet lingo such as “LOL” and “ROFL”, Zona helped bring the opera back home and relate it to its modern day audience. One of the best parts was when the men came dressed in felt jumpsuits with gold chains and stated that mustaches were “a real man’s bling.” It was the fun jokes such as these that really made the show a real treat to watch.
Not a whole lot was done with the stage in terms of lighting, set, and sound. The lighting was kept at a nice “relaxed” mood, but some fun effects were thrown in such as when Ferrando, Guglielmo, and Don Alfonso were peeking into the room and they made a square of light to signify that they were in a doorway. The sound needed little reinforcement seeing as the actors could whisper onstage and would still be heard perfectly clear. I think that these nice minimal qualities really brought out the talent in each actor and made the show that much better. The projector with words was also an added relief to me, since I don’t know much latin.
Dr. Regina Zona’s modern version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera “Cosi Fan Tutte” was a fantastic way to spend a Saturday night. This opera was very successful and very fun to watch. The actors were phenomenal, the orchestra superb, and the directing fantastic.
This short opera written by Mozart has a playful plot line that was enjoyable to watch Friday night. It begins almost immediately with Don Alfonso, played by Eric Meyer, attempting to convince two men in love, Guglielmo (Michael Binkowski) and Ferrando (Dennis Shuman), that their lovers Fiordiligi (Sarah Mehle) and Dorabela (Rebecca Farmer) would not be faithful to them if they were given the chance. In an effort to prove Alfonso wrong, the two men confidently accept the wager placed by Don Alfonso and pretend to be sent off to fight in Iraq, leaving the women alone and free to see other men if they so choose. The opera, written and sung in Italian, originally takes place in Italy over 200 years ago. This adaption, however, revamps the style a bit by leaving the language but changing the setting to Manhattan at a country club in present day. It's interesting that even 200 years later and in a different setting the plot line is still funny and is applicable to present day.
Aside from the script and music being a standing success, the actors, actresses and musicians did a marvelous job of reinterpreting the opera. Eric Meyer played a cunning, confident, and flirtatious Don Alfonso. He led on that he knew everything that there was to know about women, and his body language reflected this quite well. There were also a few moments in which Meyer had to 'act' within his act. For example, Alfonso had to pretend to cry and mourn for the women whose fiances had been called off to war, when he really knew the secret behind it all. His crying was impressively realistic and entirely on command. His counterpart and helper, Despina, was more or less the same character of the opposite gender. Crystal Buck, the actress to fill this role, had fantastic body language and facial expressions. Buck's character also had to pretend to be other characters throughout the course of the opera. Despina disguised herself as a doctor and a notary with a marriage license, thus changing her "center," her voice, and even her singing range. The notary was intended to be a man, so Buck was required to sing at the lower end of her register. She accomplished these drastic character changes successfully and immediately. Binkowski and Shuman also technically had to play two characters each. When they return to the stage as 'gangsters' from New Jersey they must become completely unlike themselves so as to keep their identities hidden from their lovers. This was also done well, especially the abrupt change when Guglielmo and Ferrando promptly return home.
Because the play was in Italian, and the audience was English-speaking, there were translations provided over the scene on a projector screen. As the actors and actresses would speak and sing their lines, English translations would appear above them. There were, obviously, a few liberties taken when adapting the opera in its translation. Some of the translations were taken a bit too far, like ROFL and LOL. The crew was obviously enjoying themselves and having fun with the script, and although the younger crowd understood perfectly what was going on, the older sections of the audience were lost. Confused remarks were made in some of these cases. Otherwise, the translations were a big help in communicating the ideas to the foreign-speaking audience. It felt, however, that the actors and actresses were expressive enough to not rely on the translations to get a laugh or two. Their facial expressions, tone of voice, and other character's reactions were enough for the audience to get the gist of the situation.
There were a few mishaps in the Saturday performance that could have been handled a bit differently than they were. During the second Act, a champagne glass was accidentally knocked over and broke on the stage floor. Two main routes to take are either to ignore the accident (probably the better of the two) or draw attention to it and ad lib it into the script. Since the script was in Italian and the latter of the two routes is a little risky, it would be safe to ignore the event. Instead, the broken glass was followed by some giggling that could have been avoided. Every once in a while, a singer would get ahead in the piece. Follow the director on screen! Either the singer or the pit orchestra needed to adjust some of the transitions and beginnings of songs. There were also a few times in the music that Mozart wrote to reflect the text or "text painting." For example, there was conversation in the first act about hearts and heartbeats while the pit orchestra played music that mimicked a heartbeat. More attention could have been brought to these kinds of musical identities; they have a cool effect. Otherwise, the music sounded well-practiced for a smooth-going performance. Finally, the light went out in the middle of one of the scenes. The actors handled this maturely by taking no notice of it on stage. The mishap was completely ignored as if it never happened, and the lighting operator fixed it quite nicely. Instead of bringing the lights back up to their intended brightness immediately, he brought them up slowly so as to avoid a sharp and irritating burst of light to the audience.
All in all, the performance was hilarious. Great acting, clear singing, and a modern and appealing set made the show enjoyable.
University of Minnesota Duluth’s Cosi Fan Tutte was a spectacular success. The acting, the singing, and the director’s rendition deserves a large round of applause.
Director Regina Zona was the director of this wonderful classical tale. Instead of taking Mozart’s intended time and place, she updated both to be a common-day Manhattan country club, with the stars of the show set as rich teenagers in private school. The Italian text was sung, which kept the classical side of the opera. English words were placed on a small screen above the actors, much to the ease of the audience for better understanding the dialogue being said on stage- especially when adding in the slang lingo, such as “LOL, bling, don’t be a hater,” and making an earlier scene so much more relevant to the audience by the boyfriends “going to Iraq,” versus just ‘war’. Other s artistic preferences were put in to the scene to add to the comedy, such as the doctor’s “magical healing technique”, and the gangsta costume of the boyfriends in disguise. All the hilarious artistic designs did not detract from enjoying the opera for what it was- rather, it seemed to enhance it greatly.
The voice of all the singers was phenomenal! Diction was well pronounced by all, and except for a few parts where the orchestra drowned out the lower notes of the female’s parts, they stood out greatly, with beautiful music (conducted by Jean Perrault) building to the beauty of the opera. All the singers matched their vocal tone to the emotion of the words they were singing. It really seemed as if they all felt what their characters were living through. Crystal Buck (Despina) especially stood out with control of her voice and the clarity of her Italian- and of course the vocal range changes she performed when acting as the male notary!
The acting of the performers was astounding! Every single detail was in sync with who their character was- they eye movements, facial expressions, and poise. The chorus even made themselves a part of the scenes with their discreet gestures, even when their role at the moment was to simply move props around; there was one or two of the chorus though that seemed to try making themselves a center of light. Michael Binowski (Guglielmo), Dennis Shuman (Ferrando), and Crystal Buck were fabulous in switching character roles with their character’s center and personality. It was easy for the audience to know that the characters were pretending to be someone else, yet they still acted in a way that changed their character dramatically. The cast looked comfortable in their character’s skin, as well as with excitement, which makes for a believable portrayal for the audience.
UMD’s Department of Music’s Cosi Fan Tutte was a complete success in their work. They performed with stellar acting, beautiful singing, and a hilarious rendition of this opera. Grand applause should go out to the director, the band and conductor, designers, and especially the performers! Job well done!
UMD's Music department knows how to put on an opera, 21st century style. Mozart's Cosi fan tutte saw a little makeover this last weekend with the help of UMD's music department.
Cosi fan tutte is an opera that originally took place in Venice, but with the help of the brilliant performers, they helped modernize it and instead made the audience feel as if they were in a fancy neighborhood in New York. To keep the authenticity of the play, it was performed in all Italian which is could be positive or negative. For anyone who knows bits of Italian, the performance would be quite enjoyable as you could follow along easily. However, for most people who really can't understand there was a projector and a screen above the actors that had subtitles for the audience to read. This was a cool feature but, it is really easy for people to lose track on what was going on. For instance, when many of the performers were speaking, you could easily lose track of who is talking and what lines are theirs. It is understandable that putting all the lines on that tiny screen would be nearly impossible. So, the performers did a great job of keeping the audience on track with their strong, lushes, and clear voices!
Another thing that was great about the performance was that it was always entertaining. Whenever it was the plot itself or when the doctor pulled out here poison curing "shake weight," it had all aspects every age group could enjoy. While keeping to the story Mozart originally wrote, older people familiar with the opera could appreciate this sense of long lasting tradition while the younger people can sense the humorous illusions to our generation.
To what they were trying to accomplish was to retell a classic story meant for this century and they did a great job doing it! We can only see what other works they could bring p to date!
This page contains a single entry by Mark Harvey published on November 11, 2011 9:39 AM.
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