And now for something completely different: Gustavo Dudamel, the photogenic, tennis-playing globe-trotting music director of the L.A. Philharmonic brought a touch of levity to Cosi Fan Tutte this weekend by proving his chops as a baritone, singing just one line — all that was needed to win raves for what Los Angeles Times critic Mark Swed described as a “nasty yet startlingly illuminating new production” of Mozart’s most sexist opera or his most ambiguous, or both, depending on Da Ponte of view. In the New York Times, Zachary Woolfe described Dudamel as “calmly and completely in command.” The charismatic Venezuelan has brought star-power and youthful vitality to Walt Disney Concert Hall, making the L.A. Philharmonic one of the hottest bands in the country. While this production took some hits from the critics, they weren’t aimed at the conductor. The presentation, which is being repeated on Thursday and Saturday, is the last in Dudamel’s exploration of the three operas Mozart wrote with Lorenzo Da Ponte (the earlier ones were Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro.
The added inducement was to have each production created by a superstar designers. In this case, the blanched, curving, set is by Zaha Hadid Architects (to my eye, a homage to Eiko Ishioka’s iconic set for M. Butterfly) and costumes by Hussein Chalayan. In Cosi, two men accept a challenge to disguise themselves and attempt to seduce their lovers. Swed called it Mozart’s “wisest, wittiest, most mysterious, most disturbing and most viably contemporary opera,” while Woolfe noted that “one of the production’s idiosyncrasies is its culminating vision — not thoroughly worked out — of pervasive androgyny.” Neither critic had reservations about Dudamel’s conducting, which Woolfe described as “both poetic and propulsive.” Swed noted his “virtuosic moment-to-moment theatricality here was amazing, especially with his ability to create lightning-like shifts in the L.A. Phil’s sound — conveying Viennese creaminess or the needs of a 21st century psychodrama.”