[Met Performance] CID:267380
New Production
Così Fan Tutte {82} Metropolitan Opera House: 01/29/1982.

(Debuts: Hayden Griffin, Deirdre Clancy

Metropolitan Opera House
January 29, 1982
New Production

Mozart-Da Ponte

Fiordiligi..............Kiri Te Kanawa
Ferrando................David Rendall
Dorabella...............Maria Ewing
Guglielmo...............James Morris
Despina.................Kathleen Battle
Don Alfonso.............Donald Gramm

Conductor...............James Levine

Director................Colin Graham
Set designer............Hayden Griffin [Debut]
Costume designer........Deirdre Clancy [Debut]
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler

Così Fan Tutte received eleven performances this season.

Production gift of the Edith C. Blum Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. Samuel L. Tedlow

Review of Lou Cevetillo of the Gannett Westchester Newspapers


Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte," the Metropolitan Opera's third new production of this season, premiered Friday evening, just 192 years and three days after its world premiere (Jan 26, 1790) in Vienna.

"Cosi fan tutte" may be one of Mozart's most ingenious scores, but it has not enjoyed the success and the popularity of some of his other works of the same period. Lorenzo da Ponte, Mozart's librettist for "Don Giovanni" and "Le Nozze di Figaro" as well as 'for "Cosi fan tutte," has been accused of a level of cynicism that ultimately bears the responsibility for "Cosi fan tutte" not being widely accepted. The plot, which blatantly points to women as being fickle and easily wooed into the arms of another, was not appreciated by audiences of the late 18th and 19th century. Society held, especially after the rise of Romanticism and the exalted position of women in that genre, that Mozart's music was wasted on da Ponte's sarcasm. One may argue that da Ponte's premise is just as offensive today with the new wave of women's consciousness and societal liberation, but such dismay was less than obvious with this new production's first-night crowd.

Making their joint debuts, Hayden Griffin and Deidre Clancy did well in their design of sets and costumes respectively. Griffin's singular, movable set copied the Met's first production of 1922 as designed by Joseph Urban, who used a reduced inner stage to concentrate the action of this intimate musical drama. The facets of this set were hinged together and were folded and unfolded as the plot demanded. There was no attempt to emulate reality. In fact, the set was more imitation of an 18th century conception of scenery.

Clancy's costumes were attractive. With the exception of the Albanian costumes donned by Guglielmo and Ferrando in their deception, the time and plot more or less dictates the style and type of costumes needed.

The vocal part of this evening as with the title of this opera, focused on the women. The three female roles: Fiordiligi, Dorabella and Despina were excellently sung by Kiri Te Kanawa, Maria Ewing and Kathleen Battle.

It was obvious from her first act aria, "Come scoglio," which happens to require virtuoso technique and style, that Kiri Te Kanawa was to dominate this performance. Her voice, long missed at the Met, sailed through the leaps and runs of this aria bringing the audience to fever-pitch at its finish. Her Act II rondo, "Per pieta," was equally well sung causing nearly the same reaction from the audience. Miss Te Kanawa has a full-bodied, warm sound that has made her a favorite at the Met. Her Mozart interpretations have been the basis of her popularity in New York and the role of Fiordiligi should achieve preeminence in her repertory. She is one of the foremost Mozartean sopranos of our day.

Maria Ewing as Dorabella hardly took a backseat to Miss Te Kanawa. Miss Ewing enjoyed equal success in her first act aria, "Smanie implacabili," and later followed this success with an equally thrilling rendition of her Act II solo. Miss Ewing's lyric mezzo is ideal for this style of opera and her stage presence adds to the characterization. The seduction scene between her and. Guglielmo was one of the highlights of the evening.

As Despina, the conniving maid, soprano Kathleen Battle was charming and vivacious. Her character appearances along with the doctor and the notary added to the humor of the evening.

The men did not fare as well, although James Morris as Guglielmo sang surprisingly well in this lyric baritone role. Morris, who has made a career at the Met as a bass baritone, seemed to have little trouble with the tessitura of this traditionally baritone role. His resonant instrument was a pleasurable change and made one wonder if he should not further explore the baritone repertory. The Met could use a new Verdian baritone and Morris could be the answer if he can sustain the tessitura of these roles. He moved well onstage and his cavorting did not seem contrived as it did for tenor David Rendall.

Rendall sang the role of Ferrando with little of the vocal or physical grace that makes this one of the premier Mozartean tenor roles. His voice is rather mediocre in color and size, leaving much of the grace and subtlety of Mozart's charm to the imagination. Rendall was not horrendous, but surely a better Ferrando could be found in the Met's roster, and, if not there, certainly in one of the opera houses in Europe.

Donald Gramm was excellent as the catalyst, Don Alfonso. His machinations and intrigues were easily conveyed by style and voice Gramm is one of the Met's better character basses.

Some of the traditional cuts were opened for this production giving a few extra minutes of music. One cut that should have been avoided was Ferrando's solo in Act II. Rendall could not sing it stylistically, so there was little reason to include it.

James Levine conducted with a flair for quick tempi, although much of the evening was marred by an orchestra that was too loud, causing the loss of some of some of the intricacies of Mozart's score. However, to Levine's credit, he did not let the music drag out and lose its inherent brilliance.

Colin Graham's direction was rather traditional with just the right touch for humor without becoming burlesque. The comedy is in the score and a good director simply has to play on the music to make this opera work. Graham did this and the evening was a dramatic success.

Review of Robert Jacobson in April 17, 1982 Opera News

The new "Cosi" (January 29) suffered from last season's labor dispute, its original director having dropped out when the production was put off until this season. Colin Graham inherited the original designs of Hayden Griffin (sets) and Deirde Clancy (costumes) and it cannot be said that Graham did much more than put his six principals through stock motions of coming and going on cue. One sensed little concept of what this masterwork is all about -- warmth, passion. Those of the cast who emerged to make the impression appeared to be doing so more of their own accord and force of personality than through any reigning sense of direction.

Even at the end, when Ferrando and Guglielmo shrugged and dashed to change partners, not returning to their original lovers, we too shrugged - so what? This "modern" solution in the hands of Ponnelle, for instance, seemed revelatory. Overall there was an air of polite gentility, of emotions barely grappled with -- more of nosy servants overhearing the lovers before moving furniture and props. This approach could be seen as an asset, in letting the music shine forth, but in the theater one craves that magical blend of all the elements. Griffin's barren sets soon became monotonous: a series of sliding painted panels in a stage-within-a-stage proscenium with side panels that folded for interior-exterior locales, cutout clouds and sky framing the proceedings. While a smoking Vesuvius suggested Naples, these flat, minimal sets hardly embellished the sensuality and ripeness of "Cosi." Miss Clancy's costumes strove for an Italian country look with a degree of elegance.

Musically, interest centered on the two sisters, Kiri Te Kanawa as Fiordiligi and Maria Ewing as Dorabella. Miss Ewing created an adorable figure with her brilliant sense of comic timing, her ability to hold the stage with consummate detail of motion. Her lyric mezzo sounded strong, accurate and pulsating with expression. Miss Te Kanawa is a wonder - a soprano now at the peak of her powers, able to sail through Fiordiligi's fiendish, exposed music with creamy ease. Hers is singing of remarkable accomplishment, refinement and projection, matched by ravishing stage presence. While certain "forte" tones turned harsh, her mastery of "piano" singing, throughout the vast range, particularly in the rapid coloratura of "Per pietà," held the house rapt. Kathleen Battle's Despina wanted in natural charm - she seemed to be working hard for the maid's swagger - but she sang with sweet tone, and her presence had vitality.

David Rendall, entrusted with all three of Ferrando's demanding arias, sounded colorless and dull, and of stage presence he showed none, however good his intentions. James Morris came across like the proverbial bull in a china shop; his bass-baritone issued with seductive power and impact, but suave Mozartean line and nuance were absent. Still, his height and good looks aided his Guglielmo. Don Alfonso stands as the fulcrum of this love adventure and should dominate as a wise, cynical, sardonic figure, but Donald Gramm provided a politely understated character that barely registered. James Levine's conducting conveyed youthful impetuousness, love of the score and robustness, but at the same time he tended to rush the two finales and missed a mellow repose that takes this score into another realm.

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