Butler Opera Center's Così fan tutte

This production brings Mozart's test of female fidelity into the modern world of Tinder and high finance


(l-r) Said Pressley, Sangmoon Lee, Aarianna Longino, Ellie Shattles, and Mikhail Smigelskii (Photo by Lawrence Peart)

Do we have to draw some sort of line between pre- and post-Weinstein? No. The coercion of women to please powerful men is and has ever been. Mozart's opera Così fan tutte, first performed in 1790 – the commencement of the Age of Enlightenment (though not one that included gender equality) – translates as "Such Are All Women," which is pretty much the thrust of how the men in this tale, in particular Don Alfonso, see their female counterparts. Responding to the young men's thrill at having found their ideal other halves, the older schemer plots to disabuse Ferrando and Guglielmo of the notion of their ladies' constancy. A woman's faithfulness is like a phoenix, he sings, it doesn't exist. He goads the young lovers into a bet that their betrotheds will prove Don Alfonso's cynicism unwarranted, even as the two lovers strive to undermine that same, priceless devotion.

"Counterpart" is the word here, for in director Margaret Jumonville's modernized reimagining of the opera, we are not in Naples cavorting with counts and army officers and their ladies and servants, we are transported to the pressurized world of present-day high finance, where the young men are executives and their brides-to-be their fellow executives, their partners. The young women are Dorabella and Fiordiligi Ferrara, sisters, and the firm bears their family name (Ferrara-Alfonso, LLC). Take that, Age of Enlightenment.

What follows, then, are a series of trials of the sisters' fidelity, set in a modern world of Tinder and Instagram, West Coast hipsters (Ferrando and Guglielmo in disguise) and the executive suite's amply provisioned drinks cart. The more resolute the young women, the more pressure is put on them from CEO Alfonso and the two men until we arrive at an uncomfortable, ambivalent conclusion.

The principals in this production are outstanding. Mikhail Smigelskii as the skulking, spying CEO Alfonso cuts an elegant and dark figure, wonderful on his own or when lending a sonorous depth to intimate duets and trios. Each of the lovers delivers a delightful solo: Ellie Shattles as Dorabella is bright and bubbly and more easily swayed; Aarianna Longino as sister Fiordiligi is more conflicted and conveys both her steadfastness and her anguish in arias that navigate the uneasy course of the story. As their male counterparts, Sangmoon Lee (Ferrando) and Said Pressley (Guglielmo) are comically gifted and sing with verve. Lee's Ferrando extols love as nourishment enough, Pressley sings Guglielmo's various charms, charmingly.

Last and by no means least, chief cog of CEO Alfonso's machinations, is Despina, bribed into abetting her better. She has no choice but to help as she is only an executive assistant. Oh, but how she assists. Hanna Lee sings the role and is impish, schoolmarmly, and, ultimately, potent as she steers the young women through the rigors of the realities of love, while eventually seeing a sort of justice done. It would be unfair to say Lee steals the scene whenever she is onstage but, in this fine, timely translation, she is given extravagantly generous use of the company credit card, and her excellent performance shows that she knows how to make the most of all her assets.


Così fan tutte

McCullough Theatre, 2375 Robert Dedman Dr., UT campus
www.music.utexas.edu
Through Nov. 5

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Butler Opera Center, Margaret Jumonville, Mikhail Smigelskii, Ellie Shattles, Aarianna Longino, Sangmoon Lee, Said Pressley, Hanna Lee, Mozart

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