Lovers and Lycanthropes
After squinting and squinting, picking out maybe one in 10 words of the translated libretto projected above the stage, I was not in a good mood during a recent Carnival Center staging of Cosi Fan Tutte. Which is fine: The music of Mozart was performed during the American Civil War, both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and its sequel, and on both sides during most of those conflicts. So Mozart is obviously oblivious to human misery. He'll just go doodly-doodly-doodly unto infinity, being all beautiful and perfect.
This production seems a bit austere — a lot of white walls, seashorelike backgrounds, and perfectly conical trees that look like they were made of AstroTurf. But it's all functional, and to my knowledge, Mozart's appeal never had much to do with interior design (though it has occasionally had something to do with wigs, and for Cosi, Florida Grand Opera has dug up some winners). Mozart is mostly known for writing gorgeous, structurally perfect, and busy music, and that's what'll be filling the seats at the Carnival Center.
The music is good. Really good. At first the singing was a bit underpowered, but that was just the actors warming up. This is a very silky-voiced crew. Except for Susanne Mentzer (Despina), whose role demands a lot of funnily voiced character singing, there is never a metallic note from any of Cosi's six principals. These folks are creamy. And that goes double for Ana Maria Martinez, a stunning soprano. It's rare to find a voice that's both dark and creamy; hearing her sing is like falling onto a pillow of ravens' feathers.
Lorenzo Da Ponte's translated libretto is bolstered by solid comic acting, especially from tenor Brian Anderson and baritone Michael Todd Simpson. I wonder, though, how much easier it is to act convincingly with lines like this one, delivered when the men are trying to woo their fiancées by singing the praises of their own body parts: "Our mustaches might be plumes of love!"
Plumes of love! Yessir, people were funny in the 1700s. But hell, if you go see this thing, you might do more than laugh — you might learn something. Any story about (deep breath) a couple of dudes who tell their fiancées (who happen to be sisters) they're going off to war, and instead put on some cheesy-ass disguises to return and seduce their own fiancées in order to test the ladies' fidelity, and who then wind up regretting the decision when the ladies' willpower weakens, break their fiancés' hearts, and ultimately learn the true meaning of love and life and whathaveyou — well, any story like that is probably gonna get at some kind of profound wisdom about love or honesty or something.
Look, that's important, but not superimportant. What this is actually about is Mozart's divine doodly-doodly-doodly. The guys in the pit do a fine job; conductor Stewart Robertson and his orchestra are lovely and sensitive throughout (aside from a few slurred woodwind arpeggios during the overture). And the cast is rare, delivering delightful ensemble singing. "Soave Sia il Vento" ("May the Wind Be Gentle") is so gorgeous that, if the rest of the opera weren't so funny, you'd cry all the way home.
Over the years, a great many books, movies, and TV shows have been compared to the books, movies, and TV shows of Stephen King, because he is one of the few writers famous enough to be an immediately recognizable cultural touchstone. But it has always been bullshit. Nobody has ever really been like King, who for all his damn popularity has retained a unique and expressive voice, from Carrie to whatever unscary stuff he's writing now. (The voice is still there, but plots? Alas, that bird has flown.)
But Marco Ramirez actually writes like King, at least when the topic is werewolves. I don't think it's Ramirez's real voice — he's too young to have settled on a real voice, and he seems like too fluid a writer to get pinned down so easily — but the boy can steal like a gypsy. There are details throughout Mister Beast that are so King you can barely stand it. For example, a retarded kid (played by Scott Genn) talks about the Incredible Hulk, how when he undergoes his transformation his pants stay on so we don't have to see his "gross Hulk weiner!" That's King humor, baby — the kind of awesomely fun detail ignored by people who think this kind of entertainment is for idiots.
Well, it ain't for idiots, unless I'm one too. Mister Beast is the most fun I've had at a theater in South Florida this year. Beast has novelty, laughs, suspense, some surprising poetry, a killer cast, and even some pathos. There are continuity problems, but, eh, it's a world premiere. Anyway, it's not like this is fucking Titus Andronicus. Again, this is a play about a werewolf. A werewolf!
Cosi Fan Tutte
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