Audience Plays Matchmaker in ‘Cosi fan Tutte: Defining Women’

265

Using electronic voting, audience members will be able to choose who marries whom in “Cosi fan Tutte: Defining Women,” presented by Underworld Productions Opera Ensemble, Inc. April 29 and 30, 2009 at 7:30 PM in Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Peter Norton Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, Manhattan.

cosi
Fiordiligi and Dorabella react to the partnerswapping scheme cooked up by their friends. L to R: Jeannie Im (Fiordiligi); Ivan Rivera (Ferrando); Casey Hutchinson (Despina); Nathan Resika (Don Alfonso); Soyoung Choi (Guglielmo); Elizabeth Bouk (Dorabella). Photo by Suzanne Trouve Feff.

The opera will be sung in Italian with English and Spanish supertitles. This is in keeping with the company’s mission. The troupe is committed to creating wider audiences for opera by breaking down cultural barriers and reaching under-served communities, including those with limited access to the arts.

The piece is conceived, adapted and directed by Gina Crusco, artistic director of Underworld Productions. The setting has been transplanted from 18th century Italy to modern-day Massachusetts, where nuptials between any combination of three men and three women would be legal.

Crusco explains, “Traditional stagings of Cosi, whether they marry the women to their original partners or their new lovers, accept two basic premises: first that the men are in a position to decide whether to forgive the women; and second, that ‘all women behave thus,’ i.e., all women are fickle and unfaithful. I question these premises, and would prefer to explore fresher models.” Crusco has re-imagined the character of Don Alfonso as a voice of reason, who reminds the men that ‘it takes two to Tango’ and that they were unfaithful to the same degree as the women. She has also made one (and only one) small alteration in the music, allowing the men to sing words of apology and reconciliation first, joined in a few bars by the women.

The nature of the women, however, is thoroughly changed in this version. Gone is the simplistic notion that all women will behave in a certain way. The women in this show have any number of courses of action open to them. Each can return to her original partner, marry her new lover, stay single, or form even more unconventional arrangements. Cosi fan Tutte may mean “All women behave thus,” but Crusco’s contention is that there is “no defining of women.”

As of this writing, Crusco is rehearsing the cast in a variety of outcomes that she has anticipated based on discussions with community groups of teens, babyboomers, and seniors. The kaleidoscopic staging of the finale pairs and re-pairs the cast. It will come to rest when the couples are arranged according to the will of the audience.

The opera will be sung by Elizabeth Bouk, Soyoung Choi, Casey Hutchinson, Jeannie Im, Nathan Resika, and Ivan Rivera. Piano accompaniment will be by Elizabeth Rodgers.

Underworld Productions Opera Ensemble, Inc. (www.underworldprod.com) was created in 2004 under the artistic direction of Gina Crusco. Its Advisory Board includes Marcello Giordani, internationally renowned operatic tenor. UP has presented eight shows since its inception, including the world premiere of Henry Papale’s “Julia: An Operatic Monodrama,” based on Julia Ward Howe, at Peter Norton Symphony Space’s Leonard Nimoy Thalia in 2007.

In preparation for “Cosi fan Tutte: Defining Women,” UP directly engaged community groups in the creative process, leading workshops for teens, baby-boomers, and seniors. UP teaching artists led a series of musical and dramatic workshops with more than 40 grade school children of PS 145, located at 150 W 105th Street. As part of its community outreach programming, UP’s Resident Artist Program trains young singers and sometimes incorporates them side-by-side with professionals in its productions. UP provides opportunities to singers who may not have had a traditional classical music education, thereby encouraging participation by those of diverse backgrounds and ages. UP presents free outreach performances at such venues as nursing homes and the YM & YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood to create wider audiences for opera by bringing music to people with limited access to the arts.

Artistic Director Gina Crusco is a 2008 recipient of the Fractured Atlas Creative Development Award and a 2007 recipient of a Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance Individual Artist Grant. She has been on the voice faculty of New School University and was Maestro del Coro of Teatro Lirico Sperimentale di Spoleto (Italy). Previously, Ms. Crusco directed Westport Madrigal Singers, Arcady Camerata, and Jan Hus concert choir in works of Handel, Vivaldi, and Faure with full orchestra.

Pianist Elizabeth Rodgers holds Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from Manhattan School of Music and is currently on the faculty there. A versatile ensemble player, Ms. Rodgers has performed with The Metropolitan Players, Downtown Chamber Players, Friends and Enemies of New Music, Music Under Construction and The Lark Ascending. She has participated in the preparation and performance of operas with The Little Orchestra Society, Center for Contemporary Opera, and American Opera Projects. She has recorded with Opus I, CRI, Grenadilla, Musical Heritage, New World, Aurora, Albany, Avant and Mode.

“Cosi fan Tutte: Defining Women” is made possible in part with public funds from the Fund for Creative Communities, supported by the New York State Council on the Arts and administered by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Additional funding has been provided by Venable Foundation and Joyce Dutka Arts Foundation, and matching grants from The New York Times Company and Kingdon Capital. Underworld Productions thanks Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance, JP Morgan Chase, and the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone for their support.

Performances are April 29 and 30 2009 at 7:30 pm at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia at Peter Norton Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, Manhattan. Tickets are $30 (at door); and $20 for a reserved ticket. (advance purchase); $15 for Symphony Space Members, Students, Seniors and Groups. The box office number is 212-864-5400. The symphony space box office hours are Tuesday through Sunday from Noon to 6:00pm. Online ticketing is available at www.symphonyspace.org. You can find more information on the company’s website, www.underworldprod.com.