San Francisco Opera brings Mozart’s 1790 comedy Così fan tutte to the stage of the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, as well as to audiences at home. This new production, by director Michael Cavanagh, is led by Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási and features soprano Nicole Cabell as Fiordiligi, mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts as Dorabella, tenor Ben Bliss as Ferrando, and baritone John Brancy as Guglielmo. Bass Ferruccio Furlanetto is Don Alfonso and soprano Nicole Heaston is Despina.
Così fan tutte, which premiered on 26th January, 1790 at the Burgtheater in Vienna, has a libretto by the Italian poet Lorenzo Da Ponte, and is the second of three Mozart operas for which Da Ponte was commissioned – the other two being The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro) and Don Giovanni. These operas weren’t planned as a trilogy at all, but Michael Cavanagh devised a way of linking them, in a project started in 2019, by setting each one in the same American house, over three different eras. Figaro – staged by San Francisco Opera last season – took place in colonial times when the manor house was newly built, Così fan tutte has been brought forward to the 1930s, at which time the house has become a Country Club, and Don Giovanni – to be staged next summer – is set in the distant future, by which time the occupants of the ruined house face an uncertain future.
Così fan tutte – which loosely translates as “Women are like that” – tells of two friends, Guglielmo and Ferrando, who are about to depart on active service. They are so convinced that their respective fiancées, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, will be faithful during their absence, that they accept a bet to this effect offered by Don Alfonso – aided by the fiancées’ feisty maid, Despina. Disguising themselves as strangers, the two soldiers make a play for each other’s beloved, with surprising results – both humorous and poignant.
Nicole Cabell – described by the Financial Times as a ‘…. velvet-voiced soprano …” – makes her role debut as Fiordiligi in this production. She has previously sung Giulietta in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi and Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata for San Francisco Opera, and recent roles include debuts as Bess in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess at English National Opera, the tile role in Handel’s Alcina at Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Flavia in Cavalli’s Eliogabalo at Dutch National Opera.
Irene Roberts, the “… vocally plush and lovely mezzo …” according to the New York Times, is presently a resident artist at Deutsche Oper Berlin. She has previously appeared for San Francisco Opera as Bao Chai in Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber, in the title role in Bizet’s Carmen and as Giulietta in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann. Forthcoming engagements at Deutsche Oper Berlin include the roles of Carmen, Bersi in Andrea Chénier and Suzuki in Madama Butterfly.
Ben Bliss, the “splendid lyric tenor” says the New York Times, makes his Company debut as Ferrando, a role which he has also performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Seattle Opera and Oper Frankfurt. Recent highlights include appearances as Belmonte in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail also at the Metropolitan Opera – prompting The Opera Critic to describe him as, “marvelous” and a “true Mozart tenor”.
Baritone John Brancy who takes the role of Guglielmo, made his debut with San Francisco Opera as Donald Britten’s Billy Budd in 2019, the year in which he was heard on the Grammy-winning recording of Tobias Picker’s Fantastic Mr Fox, and described by David Reynolds in the American Record Guide 2019 as having “… one of the most beautiful lyric baritones I’ve heard in a while“. He has also appeared in concert with orchestras such as the San Francisco and Boston symphonies.
Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto first appeared with San Francisco Opera in 1979 in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda and return performances include the title role in Verdi’s Attila and Philip II in his Don Carlo. He has also appeared at the Royal Opera House, the Metropolitan Opera, the Vienna State Opera and Los Angeles Opera. Opera News writes that he “…. combines the dramatic range and mutability of a true character actor with a uniquely ravishing vocal endowment”.
Soprano Nicole Heaston, made her Company debut as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro in 2019. An acclaimed interpreter of Mozart, Ms Heaston has a voice described by BroadwayWorld.com as “…. full of nuance passion and beauty bel canto singing at its best ….”.
Michael Cavanagh has been appointed Artistic Director of the Royal Swedish Opera for the next five years, having directed over 150 opera productions at 30 companies around the world, and written librettos for seven chamber operas. He will be staging the final part of the Mozart-Da Ponte project for San Francisco Opera next summer.
Other members of the creative team include set designer Erhard Rom, costume designer Constance Hoffman and lighting designer Jane Cox.
Conductor Henrik Nánási most recently appeared for San Francisco Opera in 2019, leading the Company’s production of The Marriage of Figaro. He was General Music Director of the Komische Oper Berlin from 2012 to 2017, during which time the Company was named “Opera House of the Year 2013” by Opera World Magazine and “Opera Company of the Year 2015” at the Opera Awards. Highlights of Maestro Nánási’s 2021/22 season include appearances at the Royal Opera House, Opéra de Monte-Carlo and Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.
The Chorus of San Francisco Opera is prepared by Ian Robertson in the last stage production of his 35-season career as the Company’s chorus director, before retiring at the end of the year.
Così fan tutte, sung in Italian with English supertitles, will be performed at the War Memorial Opera House between November 21st and December 3rd. The first three performances – on November 21st, 23rd and 27th – will be livestreamed. These performances will be live only – on-demand is not available. Further information, and tickets for both livestreams and on-stage performances, can be found on the San Francisco Opera website.
Information sourced from:
San Francisco Opera program notes