Annapolis Opera's 'Cosi fan tutte' whets appetite for vocal competition

For The Baltimore Sun
Annapolis Opera offers lively version of Mozart's 'Cosi fan Tutte'

Annapolis Opera's recent performance of Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts serves as a reminder of the excellence of this local company and whets our appetite for the group's season finale — its 27th Vocal Competition Weekend starting April 25.

Last performed here 14 years ago, "Cosi fan tutte" is a winning production, filled with gorgeous music and welcome comedy.

The title roughly translates to "all women are like that." The sentiment was considered sufficiently slanderous and risque to cost the opera a measure of its popularity in the 19th and early 20th centuries. But the work's reputation has since been rehabilitated, and its popularity has soared.

In its 42nd season, Annapolis Opera takes full advantage of the recent upgrades to Maryland Hall, with its improved acoustics and higher, wider stage space to accommodate large professional sets. The renovated orchestra pit, accommodating Annapolis Symphony Orchestra musicians, adds greatly to the presentation of grand opera.

This season marks the company's 32nd year with Ronald J. Gretz as artistic director and conductor, and "Cosi fan tutte" burnishes his reputation for choosing winning operas and casting gifted young singers.

Set in 18th-century Naples, the story tells of two soldiers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, in love with sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella. The young men are persuaded by cynical Don Alfonso to test their sweethearts' loyalty by pretending to be called away to distant battles.

Instead, they return disguised as Albanians to court the two sisters, and Dorabella and Fiordiligi each fall for the other's fiance. Still, the sisters are not exactly pushovers, remaining faithful to their lovers and reluctant to encourage the Albanians' advances. Only through Don Alfonso's manipulative efforts and those by his accomplice, Despina, the sisters' maid, are they charmed.

The convoluted plot is propelled by Mozart's magnificent music. Considered by many among the most passionate music Mozart wrote, "Cosi" was once described by British television pioneer Denis Forman as having "the most perfect symmetry of plot and structure." It follows that Mozart's opera presents a challenge for any performing company, making Annapolis Opera's fine production a triumph worth celebrating.

This production displays excellent balance between stage action and orchestra. Maestro Gretz sensitively conducts the musicians to reveal Mozart's masterly depiction of the love game as expressed from male and female perspectives.

Among principal cast members, soprano Amy Shoremount-Obra as Fiordiligi delivers a compelling performance, from her opening duet, "Ah guarda sorella," with Dorabella to the major aria "Come scoglio."

As Dorabella, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Pojanowski offers a distinctive vocal and comedic portrayal. Her opening duet creates sublime parallel harmonies, and Pojanowski soars to comic heights in "Il core vi dono," another duet, with Guglielmo.

Tenor Jonas Hacker, in the role of Ferrando, handles his duties with aplomb, notably in a disarming "Un'aura amorosa," in which he creates considerable vocal drama.

Baritone Jarrett Ott delivers a remarkable performance as Guglielmo. Most notably, Ott contributes a ravishing addition to "Il core vi dono."

Bass Kenneth Kellogg creates a formidable Don Alfonso, the cynical instigator of this mischievous farce, assured in his sonorous bass voice and sharply comedic retorts.

As his accomplice Despina, soprano Zulimar Lopez-Hernandez proves comedically as well as vocally adept.

Also of note is the 13-member chorus, which contributes to the production's overall success through hearty singing and the members' portrayal of Neapolitans.

The set design by Peter Tupitza is outstanding — watching the smooth scene changes is part of the entertainment. And costume designer Lorraine vom Saal found attractive, appropriate costumes for all performers.

The supertitles, though a welcome addition to opera performances, were difficult to read, with insufficient contrast between white letters on gray background — something the company may wish to address in future productions.

Next scheduled at Annapolis Opera is the Vocal Competition Weekend at Maryland Hall, with semifinals scheduled for Saturday, April 25, starting at 10 a.m. Thirty hopefuls will compete for eight finalist spots. The finalist concert is Sunday, April 26, at 3 p.m., and marks Annapolis Opera's closing event of the season.

'Broadway' fills The Shop

The Shop in Cape St. Claire, a hair salon and performing arts venue, welcomed capacity audiences March 14 and 15 for its "65 Years of Broadway" production, hosted by 2nd Star Productions. Produced and directed by Nathan Bowen, the show featured a talented cast of 13 delivering hits from the 1950s through 2010 in solo and lively choruses.

The 2nd Star troupe has promised more dates to come at this convenient and cozy venue, which serves as a beauty shop during the day and an entertainment club in the evenings. Stay tuned for listings.

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