A chess set figures prominently among the props for the Cal State Long Beach Opera production of Mozart's "Cosi fan Tutte," which closed Thursday at a deluxe site: the Queen's Salon on the Queen Mary. But a collection of puppets would have been more appropriate.
Stage director Stephanie Vlahos has moved the action to the venerable ocean liner itself during a voyage in 1939, despite obvious contradictions in the text. She turns the two sisters into silly Americans (although later we hear them described as Sicilians) and their two suitors-in-disguise into Argentines, one of whom sports a bullwhip. Subtlety isn't the name of the game here.
Vlahos has hyped-up the role of Dorabella, who has to be subdued with a hypodermic injection (shades of Peter Sellars' "Don Giovanni") and who begins flirting with the disguised Guglielmo the instant she sees him.
When Fiordiligi capitulates, Ferrando begins to undress her. When Don Alfonso delivers his anti-women soliloquy, he is lit in a devilish red spot (get it?) and paws Despina as he buys her assistance. For her part, Despina flirts with several available waiters.
Although Vlahos makes fluid use of the dance floor as well as the small stage of the salon, it all adds up to a cold, silly charade that mocks the women, fails to transform the men and ignores most of the humanity and poignancy in Mozart's music.
The opera, minus the chorus but otherwise substantially complete (cuts may have been made within arias), was sung in what was billed as the first West Coast performance of Barbara Silverstein's serviceable but sometimes musically gauche English translation (Silverstein is artistic director of the Pennsylvania Opera Theater).
Among the student singers, Nina Edwards (Dorabella) displayed extravagant but misplaced comedic talents; she also sang with poise and respectable purity. As Fiordiligi, Keiko Takeshita demonstrated the requisite range and reasonable agility; she proved an earnest actress, but her heavily accented English defeated clear understanding. Anne Goodale made a strong, arch Despina.
Michael Carson conducted the 32-member orchestra--a mix of professionals and what sounded distressingly like students--with vigor and lyricism, although without much nuance.