Leni Stern at Iridium
Michael Dessen Trio: "Resonating Abstractions"

The Juilliard School and Lindemann Fellows Present "Cosi Fan Tutti"

by Andreas Hager


Photo Credit: Nan Melville

Attending a co-production of Juilliard and the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Program can feel similar to a high-school match at the steroidy heights of recruiting season. Last weekend at their production of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutti, beaming parents flocked into Juilliard’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater alongside the stars, agents, and cronies of the opera world. The young artists in the Lindeman Program may already be singing small roles at the Metropolitan Opera, but this was a chance to show how they fared in a leading role. They did not disappoint, bringing freshness and vigor to Mozart’s exploration of love and the limits of fidelity.

As aggressively modern as a sitcom, the plot focuses around two sisters, Fiordiligi (Emalie Savoy) and Dorabella (Wallis Giunta), who are happily in love with Ferrando (Alexander Lewis) and Guglielmo (Luthando Qave). The men are goaded into a bet with Don Alfonso (Evan Hughes) to test their lovers’ fidelity. Add in the scheming maid Despina (Naomi O'Connell), and you get an evening of mistaken identities, changing affections, and plenty of groping.

Alan Gilbert led the Juilliard Orchestra in a brisk and youthful reading of the score. Onstage, Savoy displayed an inhuman ability to navigate the treacherous shifts in vocal register, moving from a rich chest voice to creamy high notes. As her sister, Giunta displayed a clear soprano and a feisty stage presence. O’Connell brought a focused mezzo to the comic part of Despina, managing to negotiate the comedy without resorting to excessive mugging. 

The men were equally impressive. With a comic stage presence that never compromised his singing, Hughes gave an unusually sympathetic portrayal of the crafty Don Alfonso. Of the young lovers, Qave had a full and flexible baritone. Lewis displayed an attractive an tenor, but unfortunately did not hold out for the evening, ultimately replaced in the second act by Andrew Stenson who sang with a rich Italianate from the orchestra pit.

The only disappointment was Stephen Wadsworth’s beautiful (if generic) production that focused more on fussy stage business than creating fully realized characters. Critics have long decried both the improbability and indecorum of the swiftly changing affections between the couples. Wadsworth did little to explain their motivations, and the only couple that seemed to fall in love in this production was Despina and Don Alfonso.

But with musicianship of this caliber and the enthusiasm of the performers, this was an evening to enjoy, with the hint of many fantastic performances to come.