Unique venue makes for a fresh Così fan tutteReview
Mill City Summer Opera presented Così fan tutte in Mill City Ruins in downtown Minneapolis as their mainstage this summer. This was an absolutely gorgeous outdoor venue, and so unique to Minneapolis. The audience was seated on the floors of the ruins, and the stage was raised. The orchestra was above the main action, which was an unusual sight. The orchestra played Mozart’s delightful score well, and they were back lit by a stunning sunset.
The set was gorgeous (designed by Annie Henley), and gave the production a post-war Italian vibe. The costumes were by Alice Fredrickson and were in a late 1940’s fashion. On the left was the sisters room that steps down to a mini courtyard with benches and statues. The chorus collected there, it also provided lots of space for chorus members to have vignettes during the main action of the opera. This was enjoyable, but a little distracting at times. This trope was used during Guglielmo’s aria “Il core vi dono” and the duet that follows between him and Dorabella. Each of the ensemble members were split off into couples that reflected the different stages of love and relationships.
This choice made Despina seem more of a free spirit that was just engaging in some tomfoolery, not a malicious servant.
Sarah Larsen sang Dorabella, her stage presence and delicate yet rich voice breathed star quality into the often overshadowed sister. Heather Johnson was an attractive and spunky Despina. The whole cast generously ornamented Mozart’s score, but Ms. Johnson’s two arias were chock full of them - they seemed fresher as a result.
Director Crystal Manich attempted to take the misogyny out of the opera, with mixed success. I certainly appreciate the attempt to modernize the story, but I tend to think that Mozart’s works are deeply human, therefore changing character motivations mutes vulnerability of the drama. The disguised men come back to the sisters as “Alabaman” cowboys, and with them they bring a trunk full of shiny clothing to lure the girls. This tactic works, and so instead of the sisters attention being drawn to the men’s physical attributes, it was to the materials.
I believe this was a choice by Ms. Manich to make the women seem less silly (as if a mustache could really hide the identity of their lovers). Usually, Despina and Don Alfonso are thick as thieves onstage, but it seemed different in this production. Sometimes Despina would pick up a telephone and stand in the back of the sisters room and talk with someone on the phone, I was confused on whether she was speaking with Don Alfonso because of her body language. My conclusion was that perhaps the director wanted to de-emphasize the fact that the men drew the women into their plot, pitting woman against woman. This choice made Despina seem more of a free spirit that was just engaging in some tomfoolery, not a malicious servant.
Mr. Wilkowske was extremely at home in the unusual and taxing venue of the ruins, as well as the devilishly complex Mozart score.
I really liked Ms. Manich’s bold choice at the end of having the sisters have suitcases in hand ready to leave. Just as the music ends the women make eye contact with their former fiancés, and they freeze. The men look shocked, and Despina looks proud. Karin Wolverton sang Fiordiligi with elegance. Don Alfonso was expertly sung by Andrew Wilkowske. Mr. Wilkowske was extremely at home in the unusual and taxing venue of the ruins, as well as the devilishly complex Mozart score. Gugliemo and Ferrando were sung by Javier Abreu and Sidney Outlaw respectively with gusto.
Overall I really enjoyed the chance to see this production in this individual venue. Sadly, this is the company’s last show in the ruins, but and their new venue is Paikka, in the heart of the Twin Cities. I look forward to Mill City Summer Opera’s coming seasons of providing the Cities with stellar summer opera!