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Cosi fan tutte Surprises Faneuil Hall


Dorabella costume sketch
Dorabella costume sketch

On Thursday and Friday the North End Music & Performing Arts Center Opera Project (NEMPAC)  presents a staged production of Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte in Faneuil Hall, given in Italian with English supertitles. The Opera Project was founded in the spring of 2012 by two NEMPAC instructors, staff members, and trained Opera Singers, Sherri Snow and Rebecca Rapoport-Cole. As part of their continuing effort to “challenge the boundaries of what a theater has to be by using exclusively non-traditional spaces,” they presented Bizet’s Carmen  in St. Paul’s Cathedral, Boston last year, and this year the practice continues with a Faneuil Hall production. In preparation for this article, I asked Rapoport-Cole for some revelations on this year’s production. Her response contained wonderfully interesting notes from various members of the artistic team that provide an excellent insight to the production. Much of those notes are excerpted here:

Concerning the staging and direction, in the 1940s, U.S.A., the production’s director, Brent Wilson, states:

“Regarding the 1940s Cosi fan tutte, I felt as if the story translated well at a time when Film Noir was a popular cinematic expression in Hollywood. The boys go off to war, and in this case we assume its World War II, and come back as stylish tycoons from the resort town of Palm Springs, which was/is a popular destination for Los Angelinos. As the ladies are persuaded by their new suitors, we introduce elements of color into their wardrobe, much like how Dorothy’s world is turned upside down when we go to color in the Wizard of Oz.

Despina costume sketch
Despina costume sketch

This decade was also an incredibly important one for woman’s rights. Women are allowed to serve in the US Navy and as the war progresses, the percentage of women in the civilian workforce increases dramatically. The reason I speak about women’s rights is because throughout this opera, there is a power struggle between man and woman. There also are the normal miscommunications between the sexes.

It translates as a chess game for Don Alfonso and Despina, while Fiordiligi, Dorabella, Ferrando, and Guglielmo are their pawns. The ending can be interpreted in many ways, but until the last beat, we never know what these characters will ultimately choose.  We can apply it to our own relationships; do we follow logic, or do we follow our heart?”

As can be seen by the costume sketches, costume designer Norma Heller shared Wilson’s Noir inspiration, inspiring her in her effort to “…place these characters into the time period with rich backgrounds and identities. I saw Despina [for example] as a working class woman taking part in the war effort and showing her patriotism through her utilitarian style.”

However, the costumes also structurally contribute to the dramatic expression; the lovers “…are paired off visually particularly through the colors they wear and a similar cut of their clothing. Fioridiligi, for example, wears a bolero that mirrors her Ferrando’s vest.”

When asked for highlights of the production, conductor Tiffany Chang confidently put her Fiordiligi sopranos, Lindsay Conrad (Thursday) and Kathryn McKellar (Friday), on the spot, replying that “Musical highlights include: the large ensemble numbers, and the Fiordiligi arias, and of course, the finales.” The orchestra will number 35.

Finally, when asked about Faneuil Hall, Rapoport-Cole thinks the location is an apt expression of the project’s unique identity: “So often, smaller start up projects like ours have to take opera outside of Boston in order to find affordable performance venues; we have gone the opposite direction and have sought to challenge the boundaries of what a theatre space “has” to be by using exclusively non-traditional spaces. Last year, we took the provocative work of Bizet’s Carmen to St. Paul’s Cathedral in downtown Boston, and also provided a community outreach performance at Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park. This year, we wanted to use a space close to the North End, our primary community, as well as a space that was special and unique to Boston. As such, the Faneuil Hall idea was born!”

Fiordiligi costume sketch
Fiordiligi costume sketch

And yet, one might note that in Faneuil Hall a production of Cosi is almost historically appropriate. Built by merchant Peter Faneuil in 1742, during the British occupation of Boston from 1775-6, the Hall was used as a theater, 15 years before Mozart composed his Italian opera buffa. Of course Cosi fan tutte was not performed in the U.S. until the 20th century (premiered at the Met in 1922), but if it were to have had an 18th-century performance in Boston, why not at Faneuil Hall?

The production, running with two casts, will be repeated with an entirely different cast on Friday, June 28th and an outdoor community outreach performance will take place on June 30th at 4:00 p.m. in the Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park.

FiordiligiLindsay ConradKathryn McKellar
DorabellaCaitlin FelsmanCarrie Reid-Knox
DespinaBethany WorrellKatelyn Parker-Bray
FerrandoJason ConnellJoshua May
GuglielmoTyler WolowiczPatrick McGill
DonAlfonsoSeth GrondinRaShaun Campbell

Last year’s outreach performance of Carmen (Acts 1 & 2) can be seen and heard here.

Tickets from $40 – $25 may be purchased here

Joseph E. Morgan is a PhD graduate of Brandeis University, where he studied early German romantic opera. He lives and teaches in the Boston area.

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