Whether known as “Cosi fan Tutte” or “School for Lovers,” Mozart’s comic opera requires singers of notable style, agility, range and beauty of tone--qualities largely absent in the free performance given Saturday in the Symphonies by the Sea series at the open-air amphitheater of Santa Monica College.
Working with an uncredited English translation that sounded suspiciously like the Martins’ version, director John Hall kept the cast and Gary Gene Ferguson’s portable scenic panels nearly constantly in motion. He also earned a lot of comic interest from a small investment in false mustaches and pulled off a nifty final switcheroo that suggested that all the lovers had been utterly changed by the events of the opera.
Musically, though, this “School” proved rough and far from ready. Pianist James Low enforced brisk tempi but flattened out much of the architecture and detail of the score. The offstage (“On to glory”) chorus sounded bizarre--like a tape of the cast (and Low) played on a hot-wired ghetto blaster.
Robert Remington brought conspicuous intelligence, considerable stage presence and very slender vocal resources to the role of Guglielmo. Where sweetness would serve, it served Paul Johnson’s Ferrando nicely, but this lyric tenor sounded edgy when faced with any other challenge. Apart from a few passages of labored and even gruff singing, Peter Atherton’s performance of Don Alfonso displayed remarkable ease and elegance.
As a flirtatious nincompoop of a Fiordiligi, Joan Zajac sang brightly whenever range extremes and coloratura demands didn’t overtax her. Lisa Swensen made a histrionically dour, vocally squally Dorabella. Cheryl Dooley chirped Despina with thin, unfocused tone and acted so manic, you’d have guessed she was auditioning for the role of Mozart in the film “Amadeus.”