Divine Doodly-Doodly

I'm getting old. This is the first thing I learned during Cosi Fan Tutte at the Carnival Center last week. When I saw Samson et Delila at the Broward Center a few months back, I could very easily read the translation of the libretto projected onto the screen above the stage. Last week, I couldn't see shit, even though my seats were better than they had been at Samson. Pardon my French, but it was extremely fucking upsetting. Squinting and squinting and squinting, picking out maybe one word in ten. Imagine: three hours of sitting in a theater, scrunching your eyes, trying to read, getting frustrated, missing huge chunks of the onstage action, and confronting your own mortality while an unusually loud soprano sings and sings and sings and Mozart music goes doodly-doodly-doodly in that special Mozartian way. Christ. At least they had chicken-salad sandwiches in the lobby. And Johnny Walker! Comfort food at its finest.

What I mean is, I was not in a good mood during Cosi, which is fine. Mozart was performed during the American Civil War, both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and its sequel, and it's been performed on both sides during most of those conflicts. So Mozart is obviously oblivious to human misery. He'll just go doodly-doodly-doodly unto infinity, being all beautiful and perfect.

I'd never seen Cosi before, so I can't speak authoritatively about its staging in this production. At the Carnival Center, it seems a leeetle bit austere. A lot of white walls, seashorish backgrounds, and perfectly conical trees that, to my bleeding eyes, looked like they were made of Astroturf. But it's all functional, and to my knowledge, Mozart's appeal never had much to do with interior design (though it has occasionally had something to do with wigs, and for Cosi, Florida Grand Opera has dug up some winners). Mozart's mostly known for writing really gorgeous, structurally perfect, and famously busy music, and that's what'll be filling the seats at Carnival come next weekend.

The music is good. Real good. At first, I thought the singing was a little underpowered, but that was just the actors' voices warming up — especially tenor Brian Anderson (Ferrando), who presented as a welterweight at the beginning and then bucked up for some gorgeous, buttery singing. There's a lot of butter sliding around the stage at Carnival this week; this is a silky-voiced crew. Except for Susanne Mentzer (Despina), whose role demands a lot of funnily voiced character singing, there is never a metallic note from any of Cosi's six principals. I mean, these folks are creamy. And that goes double for Ana Maria Martinez, who's just a stunning soprano. It's rare to find a voice that's both dark and creamy — hearing her sing is like falling onto a pillow of raven's feathers. In my record collection, nobody sings "Como Scoglio" or "Per Pieta" any better than she did last Saturday — not Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, not anybody. And she's loud too. If, having won a Grammy, Martinez is still looking for superlatives to stick on her résumé, here's one: "Ana Maria Martinez: Holy Shit!" — Brandon K. Thorp.

Now, one of the nicest things you can say about an 18th-century opera in the opening decade of the 21st Century is that it still signifies. Mozart's music obviously still signifies — perfect is perfect, after all, and to question Mozart's relevance would be about as useful as questioning the relevance of the Sistine Chapel, and probably less so — but I was surprised by how much fun I had with the bits of Lorenzo da Ponte's translated libretto I actually could read off the screen above the stage. It's bolstered by the acting, of course — good comic acting here, especially from Anderson and baritone Michael Todd Simpson. But, man, I wonder how much easier it is to act convincingly in an opera with lines like this one, delivered when the men are trying to woo their fiancées by singing the praises of their own body parts: "Our mustaches might be plumes of love!"

Plumes of love! Yessir, people were funny in the 1700s. But hell, if you go see this thing, you might do more than laugh — you might learn something! At this moment in history, it'd probably be useless to write an amateur deconstruction of Cosi Fan Tutte's themes and meanings, and anyway, that's not why people dig the alternative press (this is a paper that accepts classified ads from, er, escorts). Suffice it to say that any story about (deep breath) a couple of dudes who tell their fiancées (who happen to be sisters) that they're going off to war and instead put on some cheesy-ass disguises to return and seduce their fiancées while thusly disguised so as to test the ladies' fidelity and who then wind up regretting the decision when the ladies' willpower weakens, proceed to break their fiancées' hearts, and ultimately learn the true meaning of love and life and what-have-you — well, any story like that is probably going to get at some kind of profound wisdom about love or honesty or something. Plus, the thing's three hours long. With a runtime like that, it'd have to try hard not to teach you something.

But, look, that's important, but not superimportant. What this is actually about is Mozart's divine doodly-doodly-doodly. The guys in the pit do a good job — aside from a few slurred woodwind arpeggios during the overture, I thought conductor Stewart Robertson and his orchestra were lovely and sensitive throughout — and this is a rare cast. Check out that ensemble singing. "Soave Sia Il Vento" ("May the Wind Be Gentle") is so gorgeous that, if the rest of the opera weren't so funny, you'd cry all the way home.

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Brandon K. Thorp