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“Così fan tutte” roughly translates to “women are like that,” but it should translate to “make the best of what you’ve got.” The Dunster House Opera’s production of the opera written by Wolfgang A. Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte, which will be performed from February 5 to February 9 at the Agassiz Theatre, has a frustrating storyline with inherent, misogynistic undertones. Bersin brings these issues to the forefront, updating the opera to make it a ’60s sex comedy. Though the production is not without its pacing problems, director Madeleine F. Bersin ’14 injects a sense of humor into an unpalatable plotline to create an amusing adaptation with ironically humorous directorial choices and great caricatural performances from the actors.
Ferrando (Andrew J. Troska ’17) and Guglielmo (Eric Padilla ’14) are happily engaged to sisters Dorabella (Allison A. Ray ’14) and Fiordiligi (Amelia H. Ross ’14) respectively. That is, until the two men come upon the older, jaded Don Alfonso (Levi M. Roth ’14). He bets that both of their fianceés will prove unfaithful if given the chance. The two confident young lovers accept the wager, and increasingly absurd attempts to win the affection of the two women ensue..
While all the actors give strong performances, Troska stands out. His gestures and movements, in addition to his expressive singing, make the libretto more accessible to the audience even when his voice is drowned out by the orchestra. Troska’s success lies in his instinct for physical comedy. When the two men are in disguise they pretend to be poisoned in order to inspire the sympathy of the women; he lies on the floor and shakes his legs feverishly and grasping his neck to exaggerate the effects of the fake poison. Troska’s choice to highlight the ludicrous themes through his comical acting is in line with Bersin’s new take on the opera.
The choice to play up slapstick elements of the opera underscores the sexist themes of “Così fan tutte.” In doing so, the production simultaneously brings these themes to attention and subverts them. For example, when Ferrando and Guglielmo masquerade as different men to test the faithfulness of their fiancées, they express their testosterone by grabbing their crotches and behaving in other caricatured, sexist ways. The costuming of the scene reinforces this effect: the two are dressed in magnificently clashing ’60s costumes that include high-waisted pants, green and yellow sunglasses, and two fabulous fake mustaches, in contrast to the more subdued clothes of the other characters. What better way to show that the motivations of these characters are ridiculous than to purposefully dress the main characters in ridiculous outfits?
The lighting by Gabrielle M. Walti ’14 and set design by Heather D. Mauldin ’14 play up the themes of the production. The garish pink and red are a good choices for an opera that deals so much with the themes of love and desire. Although the usages of the dramatic lighting was sparse, it was extremely effective when used. Moreover, the colored lighting adds to the pink and red walls that serve as another physical embodiment of lust and frame the majority of the action.
Although the opera does many things well, however, the uneven pacing impedes the fluidity of the plot. Many scenes could have been cut or melded together in such a way that would conform to a more modern, high-paced tempo. The first half is more energetic, but the second half drags. In several instances—such as the seduction scenes in the second act—it takes three scenes to do what one could have accomplished. While Bersin was trying to stay true to Mozart’s opera,, her rendition could have benefited from cutting scenes to streamline the plot; her goal of making this opera accessible to modern viewers is hindered by this uneven pacing. However, even if the dragging second act ultimately weighs down the production, quality acting, lighting, singing and set design help mitigate the sexist themes of the opera, which is a feat by itself.
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