Così fan tutte, New York City Opera

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Some productions, like some wines, travel badly. Take Così fan tutte as staged in 2004 by Tim Albery and designed by Tobias Hoheisel for Opera North. In 2005 this brilliant interpretation of Mozart’s quasi-comedy of eros survived the trip from Leeds to Glimmerglass in Cooperstown, New York, without losing much in transportation. On Saturday, however, it seemed fuzzy and queasy after a 225-mile trek to Lincoln Center.

The New York State Theater, capacity 2,755, is simply too big for Albery’s subtle, essentially serious and invariably stylish invocation of socio-sexual experiments in the Age of Reason. Hoheisel’s set, predicated on a quasi-scientific contraption that resembles a camera obscura, confines the action to a boxed mini-stage within the sprawling stage. Intimacy becomes a matter of wishful thinking in the wide open spaces. Adding acoustical insult to expressive injury, microphones distort fragile sonic balances.

The cast could rarely rise above the milieu. Replacing Pamela Armstrong in the cruel challenge of Fiordiligi, a relative novice named Julianna di Giacomo performed bravely, and perhaps nervously. She commands a lustrous, broad-scaled soprano but failed to manipulate it with much finesse.

Sandra Piques Eddy, the only holdover from Glimmerglass, seconded her as a rather strident Dorabella. Ryan MacPherson (Ferrando) and Kyle Pfortmiller (Guglielmo) demonstrated welcome degrees of suavity, and Maureen McKay (Despina) capitalised on customary soubrette manners and mannerisms. James Maddalena mustered much elegance and little voice as Alfonso, the manipulating philosopher turned scientist. Julius Rudel, the maestro who had run the City Opera from 1957 to 1979, returned to enforce mellow savoir-faire in the pit.

Incidental intelligence: in a recent review of Semele I speculated that the infamous amplification system – which, not incidentally, Rudel never found necessary in his time – had been turned off. Apparently it merely had been turned down. One can’t trust one’s ears any more in this house. ★★★☆☆

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