Spanish Mustaches and Puppy Dog Lips: Riverside Theater Works’ “Cosi Fan Tutti”

by Erin Huelskamp on February 24, 2010

Women usually dominate the genre of opera; they are beautiful, bold and brightly costumed all while singing notes the likes of which could shatter glass. With that in mind, Riverside Theater Works’ presentation of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutti (translated, ironically enough, to “Women are like that”) was an anomaly, because the men stole the show. As they slinked on the stage in blue and red soldier outfits with dangling rapiers at their side and pouting puppy-dog lips for their ladies, I couldn’t help but giggle at the quirky characters they embodied. One tall and lanky (Guglielmo), the other short and scrappy (Ferrando), the pair acted their way through costume changes—complete with penciled-on Spanish mustaches and red, flourishing pirate suits—and sneaky plots to comically trick two seemingly impressionable sisters into cheating on their beaus. And oh the operatic voices: Jeffrey McEvoy’s deep baritone sound resonated with spin and demanded my attention by filling the theater, and Victor Khodadad’s tenor flowed with ease and precision through the entire range of his voice. I could listen to these men sing for quite some time, so keep the opera coming sirs. Not to be outdone, Daniel Sullivan, baritone, performed Don Alfonso, the older gentleman pulling the strings to this farcical story. Sullivan not only stunned with his brilliant baritone voice, but he also portrayed the perfect manipulative wealthy man eager to take advantage of the enthusiasm of youth.

Now, for those of you who don’t know the opera—and in saying that I really mean if you don’t know it go learn it (it’s one of Mozart’s big four!)—here’s a quick recap: two betrothed men Ferrando and Guglielmo make a bet with Don Alfonso that their women will always be faithful. The two men leave for “war” and instead disguise themselves and attempt to woo each other’s lovers. Don Alfonso elicits help from the two ladies’ clever maid Despina to ensure that he wins the bet. In the end, both women succumb to their wooers thus making Don Alfonso triumphant. The couples decide to accept each other as they are—for, of course, “all women are like that”—and return to their original lovers. Don Alfonso provides Despina with a large tip for all her efforts, and the story closes with a happy ending.

Soprano Stephanie Mann played Fiordiligi, the older sister, and mezzo-soprano Christina English performed Dorabella, the younger sister. In terms of appearance, I was not a big fan of the makeup Mann wore. The color of her lipstick gave her a deathly pallor with dark bluish lips that made me think of a cadaver; I would have preferred a brighter red like that of her cohort English. In terms of voices, English impressed me with her controlled coloratura, while Mann struck me as shrill. As a side note, English had great chemistry with baritone McEvoy in the duet Il core vi dono (I give you my heart). I found myself yearning for those two actors to unite in the end despite the well-known conclusion to the opera. Soprano Erin Pedersen played a sprightly Despina who cunningly encourages much of the mischief in the story. Pedersen’s voice struck me as beautiful and, in comparison to the rest of the cast, quite light. Her high notes floated with ease, and she entertained me with her stealthy upstage crosses while in disguise.

The spectacular 18th century, period costumes by Jeanne McPartland Keenan and Susan Dudley Wigglesworth greatly contributed to the success of the show. The stage direction by Josiah George, on the other hand, left me unfulfilled. One of my biggest pet-peeves of opera is when a company parks and barks; this is stage speak for standing in one place and delivering the singing without blocking or movement. In this case, there were several ensemble moments that unfortunately showcased the park and bark technique. That being said, the comedic sections came off smashingly, and I often found myself chuckling alongside the rest of the audience…so kudos there.

While the Riverside Theater Works is located in Hyde Park, a location this car-less reviewer had trouble accessing, the space has much to offer. Arranged with little tables and inexpensive refreshments to boot, the visibility and sound of the venue is spectacular. An audience member can sit anywhere in the space and enjoy not only a little wine—allowed in the theater space—but also full, visible facial expressions from the performers. My one complaint about the space is that the lights seem too few to truly brighten the stage. Regardless, I’m counting this performance as a success for Riverside.

Erin Huelskamp is a Boston based composer and stage director

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