Mozart's ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ Live at Bay Street

Hypocracy over the centuries
Jim Wright and Ashley Bell enjoyed a carefree moment in Central Park.

The soprano Ashley Bell has performed as a soloist in the United States, Italy, Spain, France, and Russia, and with such opera companies as the New York City Opera and the National Opera Center. As rooted as she is in traditional opera, in 2011 she founded Divaria Productions, which is dedicated to making quality opera more accessible and entertaining to modern audiences. 

The company will present Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte” at the Bay Street Theater on Saturday evening at 8. It will be Divaria’s third appearance at the Sag Harbor venue, having previously presented “La Traviata” and “Don Pasquale” there.

While all the singing is in Italian, the group incorporates a small amount of English dialogue in every production. “For ‘La Traviata,’ we had a narrator who played another version of Violetta looking back on her life and reading from her diary,” Ms. Bell explained. “For ‘Don Pasquale,’ there was a servant who commented on events during the first and second acts.” Because “Cosi Fan Tutte” has six leading roles, some of the singers will speak, but not sing, in English.

The English interjections are added to enable audiences to understand the action better, especially since the Divaria productions do not include subtitles. “But we don’t compromise the singing and the actual music at all. We can’t include all the arias. We have some cuts. Our ‘Cosi’ is probably two and a half hours rather than three and a half.”

Anton Armendariz Diaz of Rioja Lirica, a Spanish company, has directed all of Divaria’s productions at Bay Street. Regarding “Cosi,” he said, “It’s a complicated opera. It took me a couple of months to make the design of the production. There are six people onstage almost all the time, and they are doing something with different personalities.”

“What you first see is the switch of couples, like in a commedia dell’arte. But the plot is really more about hypocrisy, because all of the characters lie to the others. They pretend to be something they’re not until the end of the opera, when they discover who they really are.”

Mr. Diaz does not as a rule like modernizing opera by changing the set or costumes. For most of “Cosi,” all costumes and staging are set in the 18th century. However, when the characters change their minds or show how they really are, they change into modern dress. “In that way we can show that hypocrisy and human beings haven’t really changed over the centuries. We link past and present through the costumes.”

Ms. Bell said both veteran opera-goers and those new to opera have appreciated the company’s work. “We try to find the most talented singers we can, and we don’t change the musical choices or the tempi originally intended by the composer.”

“I like to work on the acting of the singers and the psychology of the roles,” said Mr. Diaz. “We do not act in the same way now as 30 years ago, in theater or in opera. It’s no longer just being in the middle of the stage singing with open arms. I prefer to work in small details.” 

Noting the trend toward HD telecasts, including the Met Live in HD, Ms. Bell added, “The kind of acting is more in the small details and facial expressions, since we’re now seeing the action and characters close up rather than so far away.”

The East Hampton High School Camerata, directed by Dylan Greene, will serve as the chorus for the production. The string quartet will be entirely made up of students from Stony Brook University. 

Tickets to “Cosi Fan Tutte,” which is set in 1790 Naples, range from $25 to $50.