Saturday, March 03, 2012

Cosi at WNO

Well there is certainly no shortage of faults to be found in WNO's new Cosi, I'm afraid. Jonathan Miller's production, which has been kicking around for nearly 20 years (it premiered at ROH in 1995), is something of a racket, it seems. Impossibly nondescript, this Cosi takes place nowhere and may thus be pitched anywhere; it travels from town to town, hawking its "contemporary" aesthetic and spinning promises to flood the opera house with the cheapest of laughs through gimmicks like including local references in the super-title translations ("Leesburg," "Baltimore," and "Adams Morgan" are put forth as potential origins of the disguised lovers, har-har). I suspect even Miller's program note is populated using mail merge.
The trouble is that a successful "updating" requires so much more than simply clothing people in generic "contemporary" dress and doling out the cell phones (though i must say the single finger iphone stroke makes for a great stage gesture). A coherent concept must find some logic in a modern setting that can align with the logic of the original play, be it congruent, dissonant, or what have you. Miller's Cosi has zero ideas about this, he just wants to see the guys in snappy suits.
But much more damning than a meh physical production, the direction is just lame. Cosi's great dramatic interest has to do with the way it blurs the line between farce and serious drama, but time and again, Miller's production (or whoever is responsible at this point) squanders them, overplaying the farce and leaving opportunities for creating something more resonant on the table.
And unfortunately the problems didn't end with the production. Phillipe Auguin--and y'all know I got love--kindled some embers here and there, but more often we got this turgid four-square business that unfortunately seemed critical to keeping the frequent coordination problems from getting out of hand.
But Cosi is scrappy, right? With strong singers and actors its awfully difficult not to come up with some irresistible goodness, and so, for all of the aforementioned problems, it was still an enjoyable evening. Elizabeth Futral offered a strong, persuasive Fiordiligi despite the occasional absurdities demanded by the production (e.g. the hoochie dancing and cougar-tastic ensembles); both Come Scoligio and especially Per Pieta commanded attention, if momentum flagged during the finale of the latter. Renata Pokupic brought a sweet, playful sound to Dorabella's music, and blended nicely with Futral in the duet work.
On the male side of the ledger: Teddy Tahu Rhodes' considerable charisma carried most of the farce for the evening and for that we thank him; the voice is certainly commanding, though by the end I was finding it less interesting than just loud. Joel Prieto seemed to lack the support needed to really send Ferrando's "L'auna amorosa" over the top, but his winning, sweet tone and touching delivery were enough to make it a rewarding moment.
And finally, kudos to William Shimell's Don Alfonso, sung with great class and, in his ruthless malevolence, perhaps the only character that seemed to represent some kind of a clear choice in this production. I'm not sure if anything so dull as a "Washington DC Cosi" is really worth producing, but if you were going to do it, this evil lawyer/lobbyist Don Alfonso would certainly be a way to go.

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