Così Fan Tutte pleases ears, not eyes

Così Fan Tutte, an opera brought to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion from Glyndebourne, ends its run Saturday, but you might not want to change your weekend plans just yet.

From the brilliant minds of Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte, the three-hour, 30-minute opera buffa — or comic opera — centers on fidelity. Ferrando (Saimir Pirgu) and Guglielmo (Ildebrando D’Arcangelo), two young friends engaged to sisters Fiordilgi (Aleksandra Kurzak) and Dorabella (Ruxandra Donose), make a bet with realist and friend Don Alfonso (Lorenzo Regazzo) on whether their fiancées will remain faithful to them no matter the circumstances. Don Alfonso sets out to reveal that all women are the same and cannot be loyal, hence the title loosely translated to “All Women are Like That.”

Photo courtesy of LA Opera

Ferrando and Guglielmo pretend to go to war, leaving distraught Fiordilgi and Dorabella behind, but the two men return disguised as suitors intent on seducing the women, swapping fiancées along the way.  With a bit of hard work, Don Alfonso wins the bet.

Though the women prove to be unfaithful, the men are the characters the audience dislikes.  But fans still fall in love with the actors. The impressive voices of the main actors cause the emotions that come with betrayal and seduction to reverberate within audience members. Conductor James Conlon’s energy and passion only add to the intensity.

Unfortunately, what’s pleasing to the ears cannot be fully appreciated when what’s in sight is discomforting to the eyes. Scenic and costume designer Vicki Mortimer’s pale Victorian set fails to enhance or complement the performance. Instead, it becomes a distraction. Only people sitting dead center in the venue see the set in its entirety, while everyone else misses out on either house left or house right, depending on the seat location. Thus, any time an actor moves to stage right the set blocks the house-left audience’s view and leaves it wondering what it’s missing out on. In addition, many scenes have much of their action occurring upstage, creating a disconnect between the audience and the characters.

A failure to take into account the size of the theater results in such significant flaws. With a venue as large as the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, director Ashley Dean should have carefully chosen the best staging that would allow for most of the audience to see. Watching run-throughs of a performance from various angles in the theater helps with that.

The opera simply fails to cohesively bring together the varying elements of opera while keeping Mozart’s story intact. Ultimately, Così Fan Tutte does more than touch on morality, constancy and virtue. The performance reveals that being in love might mean being in love with love, rather than being in love with someone.