COSÌ FAN TUTTE by Mozart, directed by Atom Egoyan, conducted by Johannes Debus (Canadian Opera Company). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). Runs to February 21. $12-$332, rush and standing room available. 416-363-8231. See listings. Rating: NNN
Director Atom Egoyan's inspiration for Mozart's Così Fan Tutte comes from the work's subtitle, The School For Lovers.
In turning the opera's two pairs of lovers into students who learn their lessons about affection in an academic setting, he earns his production no more than a passing grade, though a number of students and instructors get gold stars.
In the original, the older Don Alfonso (Thomas Allen) persuades the young Guglielmo (Robert Gleadow) and Ferrando (Paul Appleby) to test the faithfulness of their fiancées, Fiordiligi (Layla Claire) and Dorabella (Wallis Giunta), by disguising themselves and wooing the other's partner. Here Alfonso becomes the school's head prof, sharing teaching duties about love and women's infidelity with the worldly Despina (Tracy Dahl), the two sisters' maid.
Debra Hanson's visually winning design relies on school uniforms, blackboards and a huge (and mostly unused) curio cabinet. Clearly, everyone's studying lepidoptery; a key element of the set are butterflies of all shapes, sizes and forms.
This is fine, but in focusing so much on tests and experimentation, Egoyan sacrifices much of the show's heart, at times distracting us from what the music is doing.
Speaking of hearts, he also relies on Frida Kahlo's dual self-portrait, The Two Fridas, which shows both an intact Kahlo and another dripping heart's blood. The painting towers over much of the second half's action, but its use isn't clear in a staging that becomes increasingly muddy.
And despite Egoyan's statement in his director's notes that Dorabella and Fiordiligi have their own bet and are aware of what the men are doing, little of the action demonstrates this.
Happily, Giunta and Claire act and sing superbly, as do their instructors, Allen and Dahl, who understand and play the comedy as well as the possibility of a dark undertone in the narrative.
Gleadow and Appleby aren't as well defined, though their voices are suited to the music, which moves along slowly, without the spark that conductor
Johannes Debus usually brings to his work.