Mozart with a Southeast Asian Flair

SingaporeSingapore Mozart, Così fan tutte: Soloists, Singapore Lyric Opera Chorus, Adrian Poon (chorus master), Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra, Joshua Kangming Tan (conductor), EsplanadeTheater, Singapore, 28.2.2014 (RP)

Fiordiligi: Rachelle Gerodias
Dorabella: Du Qin
Despina: Ee-Ping
Ferrando: Raffaele d’Ascanio
Guglielmo: Park Beong-in
Don Alfonso: David Hibbard

Director: Tom Hawkes
Set design: Christopher Chau
Costumes: Moe Kasim
Lighting: Adrian Tan


 This is director Tom Hawkes’ ninth production of Così fan tutte, and he has set the opera in a hotel somewhere in the Strait of Malacca circa1925. The change in locale could have been a gimmick to make it “relevant” to a local audience, but that’s not the case here. “[Y]outh and the bittersweet experience of love,” as Hawkes writes in his program notes, transcend time and place. An attractive international cast did not hurt either in making the point that when it comes to matters of the heart not much has changed since Mozart and da Ponte’s time.

Filipino soprano Rachelle Gerodia was a really fine Fiordiligi. She floated one beautiful high note after another, but there was much more to her Fiordiligi than pretty singing. Her Come scoglia came off brilliantly. Those exposed leaps from one extreme of the voice to another and the fiendish coloratura passages were beautifully executed. Just as impressive was her second act aria, Per pietá, ben mio, perdona, in which she sings of her regret for simply entertaining the pleas of a new lover, let alone being aroused by them.

Raffaele d’Ascanio has all of the makings of a dashing Ferrando, but he fell short vocally. Such a handsome and ardent young Italian tenor just has to melt your heart with Un aura amorosa, but this one did not. D’Ascanio appeared ill at ease both vocally and physically throughout the aria. He recovered for Ah, lo veggio in the second act, but his high notes were strained throughout the evening and his arias never matched his recitatives and ensemble singing in terms of vocal ease and elegance.

Il core vi dono, Dorabella and Guilielmo’s second-act duet, was one of the vocal and dramatic highlights of the performance. Chinese mezzo soprano Du Qin and Korean baritone Park Byeong-In’s sotto voce singing perfectly captured both the delights and suffering brought on by Dorabella’s unexpected change of heart as she acquiesced to Guglielmo’s pleas. They were equally fine in their respective arias.

 Ee-Ping might just win the award for the best dressed Despina ever, costumed as she was in an elegant dark-blue lace dress. Her Despina was in equal parts wise, worldly and funny, and the role suited her vocally to a tee. She was hilarious as a traditional Chinese doctor in a long black silk robe, complete with a penciled-in Fu Manchu mustache. She revived the love-stricken young men by cranking a large wooden box, clearly labeled “Made in Germany.” It was sort of an early prototype of a CPR machine, but the good doctor looked as if “he” were jumping a dead battery.

Underpinning it all was the benevolent but worldly Don Alfonso of Australian bass David Hibbard. I could not quite decide whether he reminded me more of the late American actor and folk music singer Burl Ives or Great Britain’s Kind Edward VII, but he cut a dashing figure nonetheless. His is a soft-grained bass voice, and he could have turned up the volume in the Act I trio Soave sia il vento to anchor it a bit more.

Maestro Tan led a buoyant performance. Shane Thio’s stylish accompaniment of the recitatives on the harpsichord always propelled the action forward. The same can be said for Tan’s conducting, despite a few disconnects between stage and pit. The orchestra played well; the small multi-tasking chorus fit the bill and looked great.

That was due to Moe Kasim’s costumes. The men were stylishly dressed whether lover, soldier, hotel patron or staff, but he lavished elegant design and craftsmanship on the women’s costumes. The singers, principals and choristers alike looked at ease and moved well in the costumes. He can design for the stage, and you just have to spend time in any of the world’s opera houses to know that is not always the case.

Tom Hawkes asks in his notes, “After what happens, can they really go back to their original partners?” Apparently not, as the curtain closed with Fiordiligi and Ferrando embracing, Dorabella alone in tears and Guglielmo looking on both bewildered and a bit outraged. They may just have sung about accepting the fickleness of life, but the question remains – can anyone?

Rick Perdian