Fun and games

Atom Egoyan directs ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ at the Israel Opera

‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ at the Israel Opera (photo credit: ISRAELI OPERA)
‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ at the Israel Opera
(photo credit: ISRAELI OPERA)
Social mores and political sensibilities tend to ebb and flow over the years. These days we are far more PC-conscious, certainly compared with the late 18th century, which is when Mozart wrote the score for one of his most popular operatic works, Cosi Fan Tutte. That is next up for the Israeli Opera, with 10 performances lined up from May 31 through June 15.
Daniel Cohen will wield his seasoned baton over the musical proceedings with the vocalist cast featuring sopranos Noa Danon and Yael Levita alternating in the role of Fiordiligi, with Naama Goldman and Anat Czarny as Dorabella. On the male side of the leading roles, British tenor Mark Milhofer and Australian singer Alasdair Kent play Ferrando, and Italian baritone Renato Dolcini and Oded Reich will dovetail in the role of Guglielmo. 
The latter characters are military officers who are engaged to Fiordiligi and Dorabella, and express confidence in their betrotheds’ loyalties. But Don Alfonso, and old skeptic, portrayed alternately by Romanian baritone Ionut Pascu and Italian counterpart Gabriele Ribis, throws a spanner in the romantic works by suggesting that there is simply no such thing as a faithful woman. A wager soon ensues and Ferrando and Guglielmo are drawn into the subterfuge, and end up disguising themselves as Albanian officers and attempting to coax each other’s fiancée into some romantic shenanigans. Hence the title of the work – which roughly translates as “they are all like that” – implying that, when it comes to matters of the heart, women are simply not to be trusted.
The opera is also known as School for Lovers, which, says Atom Egoyan, helped to point the way forward for his role as director of Canadian Opera Company production the Tel Aviv audiences will see. “We’ve taken the alternate title... so, basically, it is set up in a finishing school and the chorus, which has a very small presence in the opera, is on the stage the whole time, as students watching what is happening with the two sets of lovers.”
Egoyan, who primarily earns a living as a filmmaker – the 1997 drama The Sweet Hereafter is among his best-known big screen works – says the goings on in what he terms “Mozart’s operatic masterpiece” need a little help from the spectator. “We gather than it is possibly some form of project. That allows us, maybe, to suspend our disbelief for some of the more outrageous plot twists.”
INDEED, THERE are emotional switchbacks aplenty in the opera which, officially, pertains to the comedic opera buffa genre, emotional roller coaster notwithstanding. Basically, Egoyan wants us to have a good time. “It’s a light approach, and it’s fun,” he says. “The really challenging thing about this opera is how Mozart shifts, between the moments of opera buffa – very light – and then it suddenly becomes very serious. There is some of the most heartfelt music he’s written for voice.” 
That demands a sensitive hand on the production tiller. “To accommodate that, and make sense of it, is a bit tricky, but I think this interpretation allows that,” Egoyan notes, observing that, if you’re considering exploring the entertainment benefits offered by the operatic sector this particular version of Cosi Fan Tutte would not be a bad place to start. “I think this work allows people who are new to the opera to sort of accept this premise, of being a school project.” As the vast majority of us have attended some formal educational institution or other, that is indeed a setting with which we can identify. 
The director also feels that, in a virtual day and age when we might expect opera audiences to be constantly aging, while more technologically versed younger arts consumers generally turn to their computer and/or cell phone screens to keep them entertained, offerings like Cosi Fan Tutte can draw the kids, and under-50s in. “There is no better testament to the human voice. With regard to students and young people I like to remind them there is no amplification [in opera]. This is actually the human voice in its purest form. There is nothing filtering you, or in any way distorting. There is this miraculous side emitted from the body. I think most people understand that.” 
Egoyan says his rendition also manages to skirt around the potentially dangerous PC minefield that Mozart may have been suggesting that women are weak and fickle beings who, indeed, cannot be trusted by their menfolk. “One of the things about this production is that the women seem to be in on this, from the very beginning. There is even the suggestion that there is a parallel wager between Don Alfonso and the two women. They are quite aware of it.” That all adds to the onstage fun and games.
Although unable to attend the performances himself – he is currently in the throes of putting the finishing touches to a movie – he says he expects things to go well. “I have been to Israel several times before and I know there is a passionate audience for opera there. I will be there in spirit.” As will, possibly, Mozart.
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