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Certain stories and artists are timeless. Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is among the pantheon of all-time greats whose works are beloved throughout the world. While his works have remained vital centuries after his death, each generation brings their own presentation of his works with their own perspective. The recent presentation of the opera Cosi Fan Tutte at the Freud Playhouse in Los Angeles under the direction of the acclaimed Peter Kazaras (known for his work with the Metropolitan Opera, the Julliard School, Deutsche Oper Berlin, the San Francisco Opera, Vienna, and UCLA) features the most recent of these and is particularly striking in the visual approach thanks to lighting and projection designer Ning Ji.While it’s obvious that this production borrowed an influence from Downton Abbey (the critical and ratings megahit created by Julian Fellowes), the affect serves the storyline extremely well in the setting of England’s twentieth century society. Presented at the Ralph Freud Playhouse, this production attests to the vitality of the modern theater scene in the heart of the world’s film mecca.

While the theme of this work of Mozart has glaring contrasts to present day gender roles, this is not incongruent from the time it was written or the era in which this production has chosen to reimagine it. Whether the 1700’s or the 1900’s, men and women played covert roles in romance. When Ferrando and Guglielmo boast of the women who hold their hearts, the cynical Don Alfonso proposes a bet to test this idea. Disguises, tension, and the idea that love wins in the end is the theme that permeates the action. What is undeniably extraordinary is the music, the performances, and the production value of this presentation of Cosi Fan Tutte.

One of the most unusual facets of this production is the use of the lighting to communicate to the audience that the events take place within a single day, even if the storyline doesn’t make this an overt notion. The two sisters at the heart of the story, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, are discussing their fiancés early in the morning against a pink sky which transitions to a grey blue at the seashore as the men leave for war. Warm ambers permeate as the men return and all is revealed. The mere mention of colors does not properly describe this vivid color palette reminiscent of impressionism paintings. Lighting and production designer Ning Ji describes, “Color was lush for this production. For the most part I was trying to avoid harsh and directional lighting. For the wedding scene at the end, the lighting I wanted to create was mostly like the oil painting of Jules Grun's 1913 ‘The Dinner Party’. This reproduction of a dinner organized by the Salon des artistes français in the late-nineteenth century is a dazzling image of the shimmering lights and enjoyment that comes with artistic fame.I liked the warmth of the indoor lighting and I felt it spoke to our story perfectly. The glowing silverware, glasses, and the glow on people’s heads were the lighting for the moment.”

This presentation at the famed Freud Playhouse in West LA received copious accolades but just as importantly exhibited that each generation takes their turn at paying homage and placing their own mark on the classics. In particular, the aesthetics and emotional tone which Ning Ji has manifested for this classic opera is proof of the importance of revisiting great works such as this. A modern professional such as Ji finds a way to connect the past with the present in a manner that intersects the two with emotional cues. The premise of Cosi Fan Tutte may grate against male-female relationships of the 21st century but the look is vivid color and romance for days…or at least the duration of this opera.

Author: Kelly King

PAINTING MOZART WITH LIGHT Reviewed by JaamZIN on 8:20:00 PM Rating: 5
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