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Milwaukee Symphony charms with Mozart again

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s production of the Mozart opera Don Giovanni last year was a triumphant success. So it makes sense they’d try to capture lightning in a bottle again — this time, with Mozart’s masterpiece Cosi Fan Tutte.

The opera, which translates to “Thus do they all,” is as much a standard of opera repertory as last year’s work. Completed in 1790, the opera premiered in Vienna in January of that year, but its run was shorter than expected due to the death of the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II. 

With Mozart’s own death the following year, the opera would be only rarely performed until a resurgence in popularity after World War II. It is now one of the most performed operas in the world.

Cosi Fan Tutte follows two friends, Ferrando and Guglielmo, who decide to test the “eternal faithfulness” of their fiancées, Dorabella and Fiordiligi, after being encouraged by an elderly gentleman, Don Alfonso. The men pretend to be going off to war but return disguised as Albanians trying to woo their wives.

Los Angeles-based director and design artist James Darrah, who directed Don Giovanni last year, will return for this year’s production, and has signed on for a third (The Marriage of Figaro) next year. 

“We have designed this trilogy to be a meditation instead of a concert or semi-staged performance,” says Darrah. “We’ve simplified our design elements to make this less like an operatic production and more about the musical power. We want the audience to focus on the beauty of the music without the elaborate sets. It’s an entirely different experience for those in the audience.” 

This year’s production does feature some more traditional elements of an operatic production, such as the use of costumes. “While this has many elements of a symphonic concert, we wanted to explore the characters in more depth this time and that included the addition of some costumes,” says Darrah. “For example, it doesn’t make sense for the very reserved Fiordiligi to be wearing a flashy ball gown. We modified her look to be more conservative and buttoned up as her character would have been.” As with last year, the use of props will be minimal.

This production features several international leading and rising operatic stars, but some Milwaukee area natives from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Chorus will join the production’s ensemble. “We are excited to have the chorus onboard again for this production. This year’s opera features a more active participation for the ensemble, which is very exciting,” says Darrah.

Another choice Darrah says he and music director Edo de Waart made to focus on Mozart’s score was to preserve many of the lesser-heard numbers. “We wanted to stay true to the integrity of the music,” says Darrah. “The cuts that were made were largely in the recitative and were cut in order to move along the action. None of the music that Mozart himself did not cut was cut. We stayed true to what the composer wanted.” 

“This opera is truly special,” adds Darrah. “It can be dismissed as silly, but it’s not. It’s the most relevant Mozart work to our time right now. When you listen to Cosi, you get the sense of suffering, frustration and pure joy that one goes through when they love another. It’s feelings that we have all experienced and it transcends time. The story is timeless.” 

ON STAGE

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will present Cosi Fan Tutte at 7 p.m. Sept. 18 and 2 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St. Tickets are $17 to $107 and can be purchased at 414-291-7605 or mso.org.

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