An affectionate audience responded cheerfully Friday night to the witty “Cosí fan Tutte,” composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s final collaboration with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte.
Opera Omaha presented the piece at the Orpheum Theater under director Andrew Eggert, accompanied by the Omaha Symphony and conductor Steven White.
The principles were remarkable: Jonathan Boyd as Ferrando, Alexander Elliot as Guglielmo, Philip Cutlip as Don Alfonso, Amanda Majeski as Fiordiligi, Emily Fons as Dorabella and Deanna Breiwick as Despina. This was the Opera Omaha debut for all but Boyd, and this cast was cohesive and dynamic.
Production designer Julia Noulin-Mérat returned this season to collaborate again with Eggert. They worked together on “Bluebeard’s Castle” for Opera Omaha in 2013.
The set and concept had great potential — it took the mismatched lovers’ comedy away from 18th century Naples and placed it in an urban nightclub. The comparison between love in elite society and a contemporary party scene made for some great comedy.
However, implementation of the club scene fell a touch flat. It did look like a fantastic club, but so much darkness made the set seem a cold and lofty backdrop to an already internal and cerebral story.
Eggert and the cast luckily didn’t need any scenic assistance. The staging used every inch of the vast set, helping the characters’ inner struggles develop with ease. Their frenzy across the multi-level nightclub added an element of reality to their laughter, scheming, flirtation and panic.
Majeski and Fons were enchanting as the characters the rest set out to fool. Few operas require such vocal dexterity against such an emotionally subtle tale. Their vocal gymnastics were a constant delight.
Boyd and Elliot made for a riotous duo yet complemented their own comic expertise with tremendously beautiful singing. The range and rapid change from mockery to tenderness required of the characters Ferrando and Guglielmo is a highlight of “Cosí.” Their voices and wit fit the bill brilliantly.
Breiwick, however, stole the show as Despina. Her energy and sincerity were not only thorough but deeply connected to every nuance of her rich, agile sound.
“Cosí fan Tutte” isn’t as immediately accessible to a modern opera audience as Mozart and Da Ponte’s previous two collaborations, “Don Giovanni” and “The Marriage of Figaro.” “Cosí” relies heavily on the splendor of the music, almost meditating upon the best aspects of the other two operas these greats completed.
Nevertheless, Opera Omaha is to be commended for a vibrant presentation. The challenges of the piece — its largely internal struggles of fidelity and temptation juxtaposed against farce and implausible comic relief — require the contemporary consumer of romantic comedy to suspend reality more than once.
Da Ponte’s sublime wit and Mozart’s score give a listener a great deal of exciting material. But in the end at the opera theater, it takes great vision of direction and sincerity by the singers to bring the timeless human characteristics of this story to life. If one character or one moment fails to seem genuine, there is little to protect the piece from seeming almost silly. These six singers were captivating in their roles, and the road map provided them by Eggert was very much alive, a character of its own.
The standing ovation spoke for itself. Along with the ever-sterling Omaha Symphony, the production was enthralling. Bravo, Opera Omaha.
Cosí fan Tutte
What: Opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Where: Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St.
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $15 to $99
Information: ticketomaha.com or 402-345-0606