Monday, August 08, 2016

Swapping Fiances at Merola's "Cosi fan tutte"

The Merola summer opera training program presented two performances last week of Mozart’s Italian opera, Cosi fan tutte, which was highlighted by a pair of spectacular musical performances from New Zealand tenor Amital Pati and soprano Yelena Dyachek above. Amital is the younger brother of Samoan New Zealander Pene Pati who is currently in the San Francisco Opera’s Adler program, while Yelena Dyachek is from a Sacramento area Ukranian family, and just graduated from the Master’s program in music at USC.

Pati’s tenor is unforced, sweet and pure in tone, and his singing of the famous Un’aura amorosa aria was one of the gentlest, most touching renditions I have ever heard. Yelena Dyachek’s voice is a rarity: huge, young, beautiful, controlled in pitch, and rich with color. I mentioned to SF Opera Center Director Sheri Greenawald that Dyachek’s singing reminded me of Carol Vaness when she was singing Mozart in her early 20s, and Greenawald replied, “Her voice is even larger than Carol’s. She reminds me of a young Gwyneth Jones. That voice is HUGE!” (In the photo above, the two singers are flanking conductor Mark Morash who led a lively performance of one of Mozart’s most gorgeous scores.)

The opera was staged by director Ted Huffman in a military hospital in a vague 20th century time and place, which made certain scenes nonsensical but overall worked quite well. The opera’s plot involves a cruel bet on whether a pair of sisters are actually as faithful as their fiances believe, with the two male friends pretending to go to war and returning in disguise to woo each others’ sweethearts. In traditional productions, they are usually dressed as Balkan boys, complete with turbans, but the bandaged heads worked splendidly as disguises. Plus, it was easier than usual to believe that the sisters would take pity on these wounded, infatuated young men. Baritone Cody Quattlebaum as Guglielmo was charming vocally and dramatically, while Alexandra Schenk as Dorabella wasn’t in quite the same league as Pati and Dyachek, but very few singers are. (Photo above by Kristen Loken.)

Adelaide Boedecker above sang well and was dramatically funny and commanding as Despina, playing a conspiratorial Rosie the Riveter maid/janitor/cook who is even more cynical about relations between the sexes than Don Alfonso (Josh Quinn, pictured below) who initiates the bet.

As much as I worship Mozart and especially his operas, there always seems to be a moment during the three-and-a-half hour Cosi fan tutte when I think, “Oh god, not another effing gorgeous aria,” and Saturday afternoon’s performance was no exception. Thankfully, the excitement and sheer beauty of Pati and Dyachek’s voices was enough to carry one happily to the end, and in a welcome directorial touch the couples don’t return to their original partners as the libretto suggests, but swap fiances. The tenor really does belong with the soprano and the baritone really does belong with the mezzo, original infatuations be damned.

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