There’s a new opera company in town.
If you happen to live in the Washington County hamlet of Cambridge, that is.
Hubbard Hall Opera Theater, founded recently and headed by Alix Jones, launched its first production on Friday night, Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte,” a fun-filled farce about the fickleness of women.
And fun-filled it was. Considering the fact that this was a first performance in a tiny performance space it could not have gone much better. The hall was packed (about 150 people) and the crowd loved it.
Originally set in 18th century Naples, the Hubbard Hall version has been updated to 1910.
The story centers around two couples and a test of the women’s loyalty.
The young men, soldiers named Ferrando and Guglielmo, enter into a wager with an older man, Don Alfonso, who has questioned the faithfulness of their lovers, the sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi.
The soldiers pretend to go off to war, return disguised as Albanians and set about wooing the ladies with humorous results.
The show got off to a good start during the overture, which was expertly performed by a 17-piece orchestra led by Richard Giarusso. Stage director Dianna Heldman had a lot of funny stuff going on during the music. The comedy worked because it wasn’t too corny or slapstick and this was true throughout the opera.
The Cambridge cast features soprano Roza Tulyaganova as Fiordiligi, mezzo-soprano Kara Cornell as Dorabella, tenor Brian Tanner as Ferrando and baritone Richard Mazzaferro as Guglielmo.
Opening night was a little lopsided vocally with the sisters outsinging the soldiers. Tulyaganova and Cornell have wonderful soaring voices and they are perfectly matched comic heroines in this production. Their “Wonderfulness of Love” opening duet was a knockout as was a later duet, “My Destiny Has Changed.”
Tulyaganova also impressed with two poignant arias, “So Stands My Heart Ever Strong” in Act I and “Forgive The Misdeeds of A Lover’s Soul” in Act II.
Besides singing beautifully, Cornell was the comic star of the evening, with her facial expressions worth the price of admission. Of the two sisters, Dorabella is much more willing to fall under the spell of the “Albanians” and Cornell makes this obvious with every twitch of her nose.
Mazzaferro and Tanner did hold their own in the opener. They don’t have the knockout voices of their female counterparts but their acting and comic timing helped to keep the piece moving along.
Mazzaferro’s voice has considerable heft and he sang nicely during his second half aria, “This Heart I Give You.” Tanner’s voice needs some development in terms of focus and strength. His best vocal moment, the “A Breath of Love” aria, was delivered with confidence.
Ivan Amaro was terrific as Don Alfonso, the instigator who stirs the pot and keeps it boiling. One of Amaro’s early lines in the opera is “I Speak With Authority,” and he also sings with authority. His recitative, “He Ploughs The Seas,” was as powerful as a big aria. He also joined the sisters for a beautiful performance of “May The Wind Blow Gently,” one of the loveliest trios in all of opera.
The maid Despina has more to do in “Cosi” than do maids in most other operas. Despina coyly mocks and antagonizes the sisters and becomes a willing accomplice to Alfonso in his plot to prove that all women are fickle. Company founder Alix Jones, a soprano, was a sketch in the part and she sang beautifully as well.
The entire cast made the most of the sextet which ends Act I and the “Your Glass And Mine” lovers’ quartet in Act II was also outstanding.
Part of the fun of this production is its intimacy. How intimate is it? It’s a bit like watching a basketball game in a very small gym, with the audience in a horseshoe around the players. If you’re seated in the front row your toes are basically on stage. They’ve turned the hall around, so to speak, so that the original stage is to the audience’s rear. A small stage is situated on the main floor under the balcony (in the back of the original hall) and the balcony is used for some of the action.
It all works well.
Go see it if you can.
“Cosi Fan Tutte”
WHERE: Hubbard Hall, Cambridge
WHEN: Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Aug. 24 at 2 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $30, $25, $20
MORE INFO: 677-2495