Canadian Opera Company: January — February 2014


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Photos From Canadian Opera Company's Production of 'Cosi Fan Tutte'
Photos by Michael Cooper and Chris Hutcheson
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Read Some Thoughts About the Production






Così Fan Tutte: An Exquisitely Beautiful Production That Defines 'Cosi'
January 30, 2014

by Brian Hay

That this production is exquisitely beautiful was clear the instant the curtain rose. The team of Debra Hanson, who designed the set and costumes, along with Michael Walton who set up the lighting created a series of luminous imagery that drew inspiration from the impressionistic works of artist Frida Kahlo*. The colour schemes used were pastel like in appearance, stunning and offset by a vibrant but conservative wardrobe that kept them from being overwhelming. Vivid lighting complimented by subtle use of spots directed the activity on the stage nicely. The lighting designs directed at the floor to help create the impressions of the garden were especially effective. Stage Manager Jenifer Kowal coordinated an elaborate series of cues to keep motion on the stage flowing around the main characters as they developed.

Bass singer Robert Gleadow's portrayal of 'Gugliemo' explored the comic possibilities of the character but displayed a sense of vulnerability as well. The stentorian tones and perfect pitch of his singing endow him with the sort of charisma that can't be taught. Mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta's beautiful voice brilliant technique mark her as special the moment she's heard. Full appreciation of her ability as an actress however demands that she be seen in a variety of roles. As 'Annio' last year she cast her femininity off so completely as to be almost unrecognizable. Her flirtatious 'Dorabella' stands as an epitome of sultry and alluring feminine presence as the narrative progresses. That both singers are graduates of COC's Ensemble Studio speaks volumes about how the company works to shape the talents of the people they work with.

Tenor Paul Appelby filled the confines of the Four Seasons Centre with intense emotion shaped by his deeply expressive singing. His portrayal of 'Ferrando' was very straightforward with little in the way of comic parody but he handled those bits as adeptly as he dealt with the more dramatic areas. Soprano Layla Claire has a range that's wide at any volume and is a fabulous actress. Her 'Dorabella' came across as staunch and difficult to sway but also acutely aware of her own contradictions.. She also was adept with the comic bits in her role.

Soprano Tracy Dahl stole virtually every scene she was part of. Her singing was clear and bright. She conjured a 'Despina' that was cute, worldly wise in an engagingly charming way, and wholly believable when she asks the sisters why it would be so hard to believe their suitors would be after the maid. Her scene harpooning the theories of Dr. Mesmer was laugh-out-loud hilarious. Sir Thomas Allen commanded the stage with his portrayal of a cynical, but philosophical and ultimately decent 'Don Alfonso'. His singing was the epitome of expressive clarity and his subtle use of body language projected the character's feelings as clearly as if they'd been spoken. His sense of listening to a pair of drama queens while their lovers wallowed in their spiel was unmistakable.

Musically the production was immaculate. Beautifully restrained work from the COC Chorus set by Sandra Horst augmented the balance Conductor Johannes Debus created between the instrumental forces and the singers. The rapport they shared was wonderfully intuitive. With his light but authoritative touch it the score shaped the characters and their reactions to the events around them. A good example happened late in the piece when 'Gugliemo' was gloating but oblivious to the fact that he was hoisting his own petard. The music made that clear and the resulting contrast was hilarious. The production was filled with moments like that.

Director Atom Egoyan's suggestion that the sisters might be in on the plot dispensed with the need to suspend belief about the deception and altered the perspective of the opera's message dramatically. Without reading his notes the fact that the suitors' appearance barely changes either raises eyebrows or suggests the sisters are the two dumbest people ever to live on the planet. With his intent known what comes out is an exploration of the human condition that's incredibly stark yet deeply sympathetic **. Coupled with the COC's brilliant performance of the score and the powerfully introspective performances Egoyan drew from the singers the result is a 'Così' that defines everything the opera can be.

That's a phenomenal achievement because there's so much This is a production that shouldn't be missed.

This performance took place at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto Ontario on Wednesday January 29, 2014. This review was written to convey impressions of what it was like to be there.

*Anyone wishing for insight into the work and remarkable life of Frida Kahlo should look for the film 'Frida' that was produced by and featured Salma Hayek in the title role. It's an engrossing picture that's well worth seeing.

** I didn't read those notes beforehand but should have. Directors may do something that isn't easily understood but a viewer should always look to the fact they never inject an idea into a production without giving it extensive consideration first. The fact that Egoyan's idea addresses the suspension of disbelief that can easily be a weakness in a production of 'Così' illustrates that beautifully.

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L-R Layla Claire as Fiordiligi and Wallis Giunta as Dorabella
From the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of
Così fan tutte, 2014

Photo by Chris Hutcheson

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