Cosi fan What?

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One of the hidden gems of Minneapolis lay not in the big name theaters (sorry, theatres) like the Guthrie or the Minnesota Opera, it rests with the small ones, the ones still willing to take real chances.

Last Friday I went online at the behest of my friend who happens to be the assistant director for a local theatre company’s performance of Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte (roughly translated–Woman are Just That Way) and purchased tickets.
To be honest, hoping he’s not reading this, I had a moment where I cringed. Oh god, I thought, another experimental theatre performance where my ass goes numb and my neck hurts keeping my head upright.

What the Dead Composers Society has done with this reliable operatic standby was astonishing even to people like me, who own no more than jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies in his weekend wardrobe.
The premise is simple and the story starts like so many great stories do: scheming men (read: boys). Guglielmo (Ben Henry-Moreland) and Ferrando (John deCausemeaker) take the bait on a wager with their single side-kick Don Alfonso (Scott Sandersfeld): we’ll disguise ourselves and test the fidelity of our respective female companions. If we’re wrong, woman are vindicated. If we do convince them to commit an act of infidelity, then you’re right, Don Alfonso, all woman are the same.
The two woman completing the love square are Fiordiligi (Kristin Newbegin) and Dorabella (Meredith Cain-Nielsen). They are accompanied by Don Alfonso’s counterpart, Despina (Sarah Gibson), a maid who has no more faith in the female race than she does of her own loyalties.
Guglielmo and Ferrando feign being drafted into battle, leave in an emotional thunderstorm only to return in disguise a short time later. Ferrando, returning disguised a la Garth from Wayne’s World and Guglielmo returning resembling some approximation of Brendan Fraser in Encino Man make prey of each other’s love interest.
Needless to say, Mozart wasn’t directly copying Shakespeare and Shakespeare was probably copying someone who didn’t matter anyway. Chaos and delight ensue. I’ll spare the spoiler. It was written in 1790, something tells me the cat’s out of the bag.
What makes this performance so watchable to someone like me was surely the bedrock of solid singing and musical accompaniment but even more so, the stripped away, no frills, raw staging. Held in the basement of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Lake of the Isles, it was clear more Alcoholics Anonymous meetings probably take place there than operas.
There was no lighting other than one individual at the back of the sparsely populated audience who turned the lights on and off to single beginnings and ends. And it was all florescent. Again, my thoughts upon first sitting went right to a numb ass. Not so.
The singing was spot on, and while conventionally it’s believed opera singers struggle with acting (a direct consequence of focusing on singing and not acting) I have to say an incredibly capable Sarah Gibson makes the show extremely watchable bringing nuance and character to an arguably cob-webbed storyline.
Tickets are still available and it would be a shame to miss Robert Neu’s work on the side of his professional demands at the Minnesota Orchestra.