UWOpera brings Mozart close to home
By Janis Wallace
January 31, 2013
Over the years, Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte has been interpreted in many ways, but this is clearly UWOpera’s own Western version of one of the master’s most famous operas.
“The story is completely contemporary in setting,” said Theodore Baerg, director. “Relationships haven’t changed much over history. They are as predictable or unpredictable as always.”
“You just never know what’s going to happen. There’s your lesson. Nothing ever happens in love exactly the way you expect it to.”
Western brings the classic opera to the stage more than two centuries after its first performance, Jan. 26, 1790 in Vienna. It would see the stage only five times before the death of Emperor Joseph II, and the resulting period of court mourning, ended its original run. It would debut in Great Britain in 1811 and in the United States in 1922.
The show features two young men who are so sure of their expectations of eternal faithfulness from their fiancées, they bet against their mentor, whose experience makes him think otherwise. You’ll have to come to the opera to see who wins the wager.
“Everything works out in the end, but you have to come to find out how,” Baerg said.
Behind the scenes, the actors have heard plenty of Baerg’s voice. And in Western’s production, the audience can hear echoes of it through the character Don Alfonso, a teacher played by Daniel Van Winden and Aaron Dimoff. (Each lead role is double cast in the production.)
“How we carry ourselves is based on professor Baerg,” Van Winden said. “We pretend to be him.”
“It’s easy to find inspiration for the character,” Dimoff said. “Alfonso is teaching the young men; Baerg is coaching and teaching us.”
On stage, Alfonso bets two young officers their faith in the faithfulness of their fiancées is false. “He’s a bit manipulative, self-assured and confident,” Dimoff said. “It’s tough love. He tells the young officers they think they know what’s going on but here’s the reality.”
One officer, Ferrando, is played by Sebastian Haboczki and William Ford, the other, Guglielmo, by Evan Korbut and Conlan Gassi. Their girlfriends are Fiordiligi, played by Amira McCavitt and Kelsey Vicary, and Dorabella, played by Amelia Daigle and Marjorie Maltais.
“Guglielmo is a very macho guy,” Gassi said. “He’s the instigator of the two. He thinks everything he does is right and good, so he’s confident that his girlfriend will remain constant no matter what.”
Gassi conveys the character through his swagger and his songs. “Mozart was very specific in the music and what he asks for,” he said.
“It would be a lot more difficult to bring to life without the music,” Dimoff said. “The way Mozart sets the text helps the character develop in a more effective fashion.”
Haboczki agreed. “We are actors playing actors (when we’re in disguise). So it’s not just how I play the character of Ferrando, but how would Ferrando act as the disguised character he assumes to trick the girls. They’re not trained actors, so they do stupid things to portray a character. … The music is terribly difficult. It requires stamina. You have to be accurate. There are very long phrases that require incredible breath control. It’s especially difficult if you’re staged to run around. You can’t just belt out the high notes. You have to sing Mozart high notes – elegantly.”
The classic character role of Despina, played by Katy Clark and Victoria Trevoy, has a little more leeway to play around with the style.
“She’s poor but very intelligent,” Trevoy said. ”She’s very good at staying on top of things and very cunning. Despina is one of the masterminds of the story. Despina’s arias are very spunky and offer a lot of opportunity to show her intelligence and her conniving ways.”
Familiar local landmarks pop up on stage and smartphones play a role in the miscommunications. Much comedy ensues as disguises, indiscretions and dual roles are set to the glorious music of Mozart.
Baerg is not the first director to take the story out of time and place, as others have set it in a Melbourne mental hospital or performed it as a western.
For Western audiences, Trevoy said the local flavor helps highlight the social message. “It’s not the same class structure, but there are financial differences and the background is still hierarchical and does exist in the university and London.”
Haboczki said this offers pros and cons. “It’s easier to do a modern setting in some ways because you know the audience can relate more. But describing social settings of that period is tough to figure out the meaning.”
Translating messages is also critical for props and costumes.
“It’s easier to relate what the clothes mean to the character,” Van Winden said. “You know what a suit or jeans mean, rather than the statements of period costumes. But it brings its own difficulties. The libretto doesn’t translate modern social ideas.”
A costume also lets an actor assume another personality easier.
“It’s easy to fall into your own personal habits,” Dimoff said.
“Relationships haven’t changed much over history,” Baerg added. “They are as predictable or unpredictable as always.”
“I hope the audiences come away with a really good laugh and a fun evening,” said Trevoy. “And I hope they see the themes from Mozart’s time are the same as now.”
IF YOU GO
Mozart’s opera Cosi fan tutte
9 p.m. Feb. 1, 8-9; 2 p.m. Feb. 2-3; and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7
Paul Davenport Theatre, Talbot College
$25 adults, $20 seniors and students; available in advance from the Grand Theatre box office at 519-672-8800 or tickets.grandtheatre.com as well as cash at the door.
8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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