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Opera review: Some fine singing in Winter Opera's 'Così'

Opera review: Some fine singing in Winter Opera's 'Così'

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Winter Opera St. Louis: 'Cosi fan tutte'

A scene from Winter Opera St. Louis' 'Cosi fan tutte." Left to right: Christopher Holmes, Sarah Nordin, Lily Guerrero, Kevin Wetzel, Gina Galati, Daniel Gerdes. (Photo by Riq Dilly) 

Mozart’s opera “Così fan tutte (Women are like that)” contains some of the composer’s most sublime music, attached to an exceptionally silly — and misogynistic — story. Composed in 1790, it was the third and last of Mozart’s collaborations with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, after their decidedly not-silly “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Don Giovanni.”

The plot, such as it is, concerns two officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, affianced to a pair of sisters, Fiordiligi and Dorabella. Their bachelor buddy Don Alfonso bets the men that the women would be readily unfaithful to them; the men challenge him to prove it, and the bet is on.

The soldiers march away, supposedly to war, only to return shortly thereafter, dressed as a pair of exotic Albanians.

Although they’re disguised as thinly as Clark Kent (moustaches are a big part of it), the sisters — both evidently near-sighted as well as dim-witted — are taken in, with the help of their unscrupulous maid Despina.

The laughs come mostly at the expense of the women. The music makes up for it.

Winter Opera St. Louis’ production of “Così,” seen Sunday afternoon at Chaminade’s Viragh Center, offered a traditional take on the story. The cast has just six roles, but the opera calls for first-rate singers; for the most part, this production had them.

Really good tenors are rare, but Winter Opera found one in Daniel Gerdes. A former Gerdine Young Artist at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Gerdes sang with clarity and beauty of voice. Ferrando’s lovely first act aria, “Un’aura amorosa (A loving breath)” set the tone for the rest of his vocal performance.

This Ferrando was well-matched by his buddy: Baritone Christopher Holmes was a dark-voiced, physically imposing and dramatically convincing Guglielmo. Sarah Nordin was a suitably ditzy and convincingly teenaged Dorabella with a rich mezzo-soprano that fit Mozart’s music like a glove.

As Fiordiligi, soprano (as well as Winter Opera founder and general director) Gina Galati seemed to be having an off day. Her singing was inconsistent, starting with her challenging first act aria, “Come scoglio (Like a rock),” and she had some pitch issues.

Soprano Lily Guerrero’s Despina was a dynamo, flinging herself into the conspiracy and action. Baritone Kevin Wetzel’s puppetmaster Don Alfonso sang well, if a little dryly, but lacked presence and was sometimes musically inexact.

Stage director Corrine Hays kept things moving smartly, with plenty of humorous touches. She found ways to differentiate between her characters and make them more believable, and used scenic designer Scott Loebl’s attractive unit set well.

Conductor Nicolas Giusti was imaginative and amusing in his musical asides from the harpsichord during the recitatives, and clearly knows and understands this music. He opened some cuts in the score; his tempos occasionally seemed sluggish, and there were consistent disconnects between stage and pit.

Nancy Mayo’s chorus was poorly placed for its offstage music but sang festively onstage.

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Sarah Bryan Miller is the classical music critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; she has also written on a variety of other topics.

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