Musical director Topher Mokrzewski says Against the Grain's adaptations are acts of love, not sacrilege.
A LITTLE TOO COZY based on Mozart's Così Fan Tutte, adapted and directed by Joel Ivany, musical direction by Topher Mokrzewski, with Shantelle Przybylo, Rihab Chaieb, Aaron Sheppard, Clarence Frazer, Cairan Ryan and Caitlin Wood. Presented by Against the Grain at Studio 42, CBC Toronto (25 John). Opens May 12 and runs various dates to May 21. $35-$95. againstthegraintheatre.com. See listing.
If you're a reality show fan, you know that programs like The Bachelor or The Bachelorette are full of inflated, overly dramatic emotional climaxes - operatic moments, if you like.
Against the Grain Theatre has applied the high-blown flavour of those shows to a real opera, Mozart's Così Fan Tutte, to create A Little Too Cozy.
In Mozart's original, two young men engage in a bet with an older friend who claims that each can, because of women's fickleness, woo and win the other's sworn lover. The two scoff at the idea but over the course of the opera are proven wrong.
In director Joel Ivany's adaptation (or "transladaptation," as the company calls it), the action takes place in the context of a live TV show called A Little Too Cozy, hosted by Donald L. Fonzo (the original character is Don Alfonso).
The men, Elmo and Ferrando, haven't yet met the women with whom they've fallen in love, Dora and Felicity, having been in contact only through texting and phoning. They don't see each other in person until the end of the first act.
Fonzo and Despina, the show's executive handler, manipulate all four wickedly for the delight and entertainment of the studio audience.
"The set-up makes a comment on the nature of relationships today," says AtG music director Topher Mokrzewski, who's been part of the company's updated versions of other Mozart operas, The Marriage Of Figaro (Figaro's Wedding) and Don Giovanni (#UncleJohn). John and Cozy were both developed through Banff's Open Space Opera Program, run by Ivany; Mokrzewski is also part of that team.
"This production creates its own reality, both for the characters and the actual audience, who sit in the studio watching the TV show. Why do we stare with such fascination at relationships in front of us, and why do these people we watch get involved this way?"
Making the experience even more "real" is the fact that Cozy is staged in a CBC studio complete with cameras, supers and production people. There's more than a bit of voyeurism on the part of the viewers.
"Così is my favourite opera of the three," admits Mokrzewski, who's also resident conductor at the Calgary Opera.
"I know that for some people the story gets in the way - it's arguably misogynistic, silly and cynical - but Mozart infused it with ideas about relationships and how easy it is to switch affections. The music is profound and filled with humanity, and appeals to any listener.
"And it's through that music that the composer explores, on a personal level, the suffering of people in love or those who are improperly matched."
In this game-show version, there's a plausible reason for the matching and re-matching of the quartet of lovers.
"The libretto captures the essence of the Italian text, even though what we hear is vernacular language. There's no disconnect between the music and our text, which is our aim at Against the Grain: the marriage of the two in a way that's resonant and meaningful for today's audiences."
The musicians here are a five-piece chamber orchestra playing Mokrzewski's string arrangement of the original score; he leads from the piano.
"This is such a presentational production that we become one of the characters in the show - we're kind of the studio band. My job at the keyboard is to fill in textures, a filigree here and there, to make as robust and colourful a sound as we can with five people.
"These Mozart adaptations are statements of love for Joel and me, using a different lens to look at Mozart classics. They're acts of love, not sacrilege."