To enjoy "Cosi fan tutte," it is only necessary to suspend your disbelief and let yourself drift mindlessly on a tide of music that is among Mozart's most beautiful and inventive. The plot is frivolous, the characters lovable though fallible, and the comedy often irresistible. And Utah Opera's production is expertly sung and visually beautiful, set in a graceful 18th century seaside villa of blue and green tones, designed by Jay Depenbrock. Indeed, "Cosi" is an unhackneyed observation of the Mozart Bicentennial.
To carry off so chauvinistic a story as this - two adult women, extravagantly in love with two dashing officers, become so infatuated with two mysterious Albanians that within 24 hours they are prepared to sign wedding contracts with the interlopers - requires a master hand in the staging.Fortunately, Utah Opera has had such mastery in Andrew Foldi, whose light and witty touch dominates a production that manages to stay always on the side of fun, avoiding any descent into the heartache or bitterness only a heartbeat away. After all, everyone loves a flirtation, and Foldi makes you lean back and enjoy the whole preposterous chain of events.
The thing that refutes all objections and sweeps all before it is the uninterrupted, limpid flow of the music in "Cosi" - solos, duets, trios, quartets, vivid finales, all succeeding each other so beguilingly and inventively that the opera's extreme length is even acceptable. Dean Ryan's conducting is serviceable and often evocative, the orchestra well-disciplined and never overbearing. (But let's strike a blow for harpsichord on the recitatives, and relegate that tinny sythesizer to the basement.)
Mezzo soprano Ariel Bybee's return to Utah is well-timed, in a part that suites her opulent voice and fine acting abilities. As the susceptible Dorabella, she handles both coloratura and comedy skillfully. She's fun-loving, more than a little air-headed, entirely feminine and clearly out to make the most of an intriguing situation.
Brenda Harris brings formidable vocal skills and a lovely, well-focused soprano to the demanding role of Fiordiligi, an assignment she carries off smashingly, including two difficult arias. She maintains propriety with rockribbed solemnity, but we need earlier to see more glimpses of an exuberant girl peeking from behind the sternness, to warm up her character and make her ultimate surrender more believable.
The officers/Albanians are lively, witty, and altogether charming. Both voices are fine, well disciplined and well suited to Mozart, and and both are good actors, who toy playfully with their parts. William Parcher shines in Guglielmo's "catalog" aria, demonstrating his many talents and abilities to the sceptical girls, and Joseph Wolverton delivers a stylish "Un' aura amorosa." They too have their tongues far enough in their cheeks to take away any incipient stings.
George Hogan as the cynical (and sometimes spiteful) busybody, Alfonso, is urbane and detached, a good actor and singer in an often thankless role. Susan Deavono sings the callous little Despina prettily, and throws herself into a part which is sometimes heavier than she can quite manage, both vocally and dramatically, though she does well by its comic aspects.
Utah Opera brings its imposing ancillary talents to the professionalism of this opera - beautiful, authentic costumes by Susan Memmott Allred, imaginative lighting by Kay Barrell and wigs and makeup by Diane Mikkelson.
Now let's see - Dorabella ends up with Ferrando in the end, and Fiordiligi with Guglielmo - or is it the other way around? You come and work it out for yourself.