Così #YouToo

I’m a gonna shoe-horn this opera review into a food blog because we had a tailgate picnic beforehand. Where? Santa Fe Opera, dontcha know, where, in the tradition of English “country house” operas, one dines alfresco before moving indoors to the theater.

Here in Santa Fe, the opera house is not fully indoors but open to the elements (thunder, lightning, moon glow), on a mesa north of town where, some 60 years ago, the conductor John Crosby envisioned turning a 200-acre guest ranch into the center for a summer music program. Plenty of similarly ambitious “festivals” in the USA and abroad: Salzburg, Bayreuth, Glyndebourne, Wolf Trap, Lavinia, Tanglewood, among many others. The New Mexico desert required only a ton of money to succeed: artists and musicians gravitate to warm and sunny summer venues no less than do patrons of the arts.

[Seattle Opera some decades ago floated a proposal for a suburban “Festival in the Forest” on Weyerhaeuser property in Federal Way. The Opera had long harbored Wagnerian ambitions of grandeur, even bringing in such vocal luminaries as Jane Eaglen and Stephanie Blythe for a couple Ring cycles; fortunately, the forest won, and the festival sank without a trace.]

Back to Santa Fe. You can pay several Jacksons and get a catered picnic on one of the stucco-walled terraces overlooking the New Mexico desert, or you can motor up early and make do with folding chairs, a card table, and a lively scene in the parking lot. Bring your own bubbles, cheese, crackers, sandwiches, and cookies.

The show starts at 8 in August, when the breezes waft through the 2,200-seat amphitheater. You get a great view of thunderstorms onstage and off. The current production of Così Fan Tutte features a very fine Fiordiligi (the American soprano Amanda Majewski) and some earnest singers in supporting roles, but the frothy, nay ridiculous plot requires more than the minimalist staging afforded by the venue’s limitations. No elaborate sets or ornate costumes to offset the comedy or underline its fundamental pessimism; not even a bed into which the mismatched pairs of lovers can fall.

The result, alas, is that this Così stumbles where it ought to skip, crashes into walls from which it might more nimbly bounce unharmed. No wonder that a third of the audience left at intermission, and half of those who remained couldn’t figure out just what had happened. Was it meant to be seen as a #metoo moment? Or a #notus statement?

All that’s too deep. The most satisfying Così I’ve seen so far was last year’s production at Seattle Opera, featuring genuine sisters (Marina and Ginger Costa-Jackson) as Fiordiligi and Dorabella. Hey, we know times have changed, but let’s respect the original material…especially the times it represents. You want deeper stuff, just wait; Mozart’s next opera after Cosi was Don Giovanni, a character who gets the #MeToo roasting he deserves.