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St. Pete Opera returns with Mozart, marriage – and mayhem

Bill DeYoung

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And the con is on: In St. Petersburg Opera Company's "Cosi fan tutte," the mixed-up lovers are (from left) Lara Lynn McGill, John Kaneklides, Tyler Putnam and Sarah Nordin. Photos by Bill DeYoung.

St. Petersburg Opera Company’s 15th season wasn’t all that it could have been. The ongoing pandemic scrubbed an entire well-planned schedule of fully-produced operas at the Palladium Theater, and forced artistic director Mark Sforzini and colleagues to improvise.

They did well, under the circumstances, with a series of outdoor, open-air “greatest hits” shows, and in April the company moved back into the Palladium, albeit with smaller productions and a well-spaced audience. Toes-in-the-water stuff.

At last, Season 16 has arrived, and St. Pete Opera is back with a full orchestra, its typically elaborate sets and costumes, and a world-class cast of professional singers.

“I never felt we were never going to get there,” Sforzini said during a break in rehearsal Sunday night. “I always knew it would just be a matter of time.”

With Mark Sforzini conducting in the background, Lara Lynn McGill (Fiordiligi), Erik Kroncke (Don Alfonso) and Sarah Nordin (Dorabella) sing a trio.

Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte is the new show, and it debuts this Friday (Oct. 15). It’s a lighthearted comedy, sung in Italian (with English translations projected discreetly over the stage). Translated roughly as “They are all like that,” Cosi fan tutte tackles a favorite topic of operatic farce – the “fickleness” of women – and gives it a twist aped centuries later in movies and sitcoms: The ol’ switcheroo.

Soldiers Guglielmo and Ferrando accept a wager from their rascally pal Don Alfonso that the men’s fiancées cannot remain faithful for a single day.

The three concoct a scheme: After the soldiers are sent off “to war,” they’ll return in disguise as a pair of oversexed Albanians, and attempt to woo one another’s betrothed.

As Don Alfonso watches, the soldiers “say goodbye” to their sweethearts.

The women, sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi, are at first horrified by the sweaty newcomers, and loudly mourn the disappearance of their true loves to certain death in war.

Ah, but in this libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte (who collaborated with Mozart on Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro) there are twists, turns and lots of laughs.

And, of course, the music.

“The music is amazing,” Sforzini noted, “with the ensembles, the trios and quintets, the way Mozart weds the vocal lines with the instrumental lines – it’s just such a perfect marriage.”

SPO’s Cosi fan tutte includes an actual marriage – bass Tyler Putnam (Guglielmo) and soprano Sarah Nordin (Dorabella). The couple, who perform with opera companies across the country both individually and together, make frequent appearances in SPO productions.

“We are so proud to be part of the full-length reopening,” said Putnam.

Nordin agreed. “And this is also one of my favorite shows. I’ve done it a lot, and I just think it’s hilarious and fun, and the music is so good. It’s exciting for this to be the comeback.”

Before everything shut down in March 2020, she pointed out, “the last thing I did was Rigoletto with St. Pete Opera. So it’s nice to come here and start over.”

Both singers have other jobs booked – but since the pandemic is still with us, there’s still a way to go until employment equilibrium is fully restored. “Things are similar to what they were before,” Putnam said. “But I’ll just throw in here that childcare has been a lot more challenging than normal.

“We’re doing our very best to maintain a bubble, whenever possible, with those we’re in contact with. We’re using the help of family, which is why we sing in Florida a lot, to help with childcare.”

Nordin’s family lives in Lakeland. “Generally, during these troubling times,” she said, “finding babysitters is a lot tougher than finding family.”

No spoilers here, but these two do have a couple of tender moments onstage together. There is, after all, love in the air – despite all the machinations and double-dealing – between Mozart’s four star-crossed characters.

“I don’t begrudge these the people the chance to find the lover they think they want in life,” Sforzini said.

“It’s farcical, and you have to suspend disbelief – like these sisters wouldn’t recognize their boyfriends in these disguises. Have you ever tried to disguise yourself and seeing if you can fool your partner into thinking it’s not you?”

St. Petersburg Opera Company website

Palladium Theater website (tickets)

Backstage on break: Lara Lynn McGill, left, Mark Sforzini and Kelly Curtin, who sings the role of the devious maid, Despina.

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