Illinois State University’s production of Mozart’s operatic gem "Cosi fan tutte" (roughly translated "Thus Do All Women") zooms by.
Sounds surprising maybe, but credit director Joe McDonnell and his fine production team for creating a show that is visually compelling, zany and fresh.
Also, it’s edited and thus one hour shorter than Chicago Lyric’s current "Cosi."
The typical-for-its-day plot by librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte is blatantly misogynist to modern sensibilities. McDonnell doesn’t try to explain that away but rather focuses on the humor and, oh, the transcendently beautiful music (orchestra conductor Glenn Block).
This style of late-18th-century opera, known as opera buffa, appealed to common folks looking for a rollicking good time at the theater, and still does. If you’ve not before been an opera buff, opera buffa may be your gateway.
This is an ensemble show that is here planted in a resort, created with wit and a gorgeous pink-turquoise-sand palate evoked by scenic designer Kim Lartz and costume designer Lauren Lowell.
All the leads are double-cast and the opera is sung in both Italian (the big songs) and English with super-titles projected on screens. That’s all helpful, but the story is told so well on stage that it almost feels superfluous.
We first meet the goofy young guys Ferrando (Caleb Bent) and Guglielmo (Matthew Mancillas), along with their older, cynical teacher Don Alfonso (Matthew Davis), on a putting green.
At Don Alfonso’s urging, the young men disguise themselves (as rugby players in athletic socks and sandals with giant beards) in order to seduce each other’s girlfriends.
They want to test the fidelity of their sweethearts Dorabella (Rachel Ann Miller) and Fiordiligi (Hannah Johnson). We meet the girls under hairdryers, getting pedis.
Don Alfonso gets help urging the plot along from the girls’ uproarious maid Despina (Sydney Megeff), who does an Elvis turn in Act 2.
The entire ensemble turns in solid vocal performances while managing aerobic and very funny blocking.
For example, Fiordiligi’s famous aria, "Come Scoglio," begins with her scooting on her knees, and the opening notes of the gorgeous tenor aria “Un Aura” has Ferrando on his back next to the hot tub.
Whether this is your first "Cosi" or your 10th, there’s a lot to please here.