Are all women like that?

For its performance of Cossi fan tutte, the Asheville Lyric Opera will transform the stage into Naples of the Roaring-’20s — an equally transformative innovation of the 1790 opera by Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte.

Also referred to as “The School for Lovers,” the plot finds two young officers — Ferrando and Guglielmo — testing the faithfulness of their respective lovers at the behest of the jaded Don Alfonso, who has his doubts. The test of faith involves disguises, trickery, seduction and even a sham wedding. In the story, as in love, all parties are vindicated and humiliated, equally.

Pat Heuermann first directed Cosi fan tutte while teaching at Emory in Atlanta. She continued to direct as a founding member of Atlanta Opera and served as president of the National Opera Association. Now “retired” to Asheville, Heuermann agreed to direct Cosi fan tutte for Asheville Lyric Opera for the fourth time in her career. Xpress discussed personal relocation and Mozart in “the era where anything goes.”

Xpress: What brought you to Asheville?
I used to spend summers up here when I was a teenager and I just fell in love with Asheville. I had two children who lived here and so I decided I’d come back, and I’m really glad I did. It’s a fascinating town and it’s so beautiful to be in these mountains.

You particularly like this opera?
I love it. It’s a wonderful opera. I always try to do it slightly differently and this one I’m really excited about because … we’re setting it in the Roaring ‘20s, which for me seems just perfect for it because it fits in the era where anything goes. People are too rich for their own good, or too flighty or fickle. Not just the women, but the men too.

The music is some of Mozart’s most beautiful music. It’s funny, it’s beautiful, but it has this dark sort of underside. It’s interesting to explore and people have started doing different endings to it which I think is good.

Have you ended it differently the different times you’ve directed it?
Yes, actually. The first one I was very traditional. I mean after all it was the first opera I’d ever directed. Then as I kind of explored it and thought about it over the years I decided I just had to do it differently.

I noticed in the notes that they’re building a turntable for the stage for this production.
They are!

There’s quite a bit of production going into this.
They are going to be very beautiful and interesting because they’ve never had anything like that before. At least this company hasn’t. It’s very interesting because we’re going to do it in plain site, we’re not going to pull the curtain so you’ll be able to see people, hopefully very quietly and smoothly, change the set and turn the table. The sketches are really fun and beautiful. I love the costumes. It’s much easier to move around up there when you’re not wearing those 18th century huge dresses."

Do they bring in the leads from out of town?
It’s wonderful how musical and cultural in every way that Asheville is. It’s really impressive. But, they do import people. I think Fiordiligi is the most difficult role. [Sarah Beckham] has sung in Europe, and I think some of the others have too. The two that are here are Kristin Hedberg, who is the associate artistic director at the opera, and Scott Joiner, the tenor who has done quite a bit of singing with them. He went to Manhattan School of Music and studied in New York. He lives here and his wife’s a singer also and they do a lot of singing. They’re very good.

It sounds like the type of opera that someone who’s been scared to go to opera because they thought it was too serious would actually really enjoy.
Oh, I think that’s definitely true. I think it’s a wonderful first opera for people who are a little afraid of it or who haven’t seen it before because it’s funny. It’s very charming, the music is beautiful there isn’t anything even slightly boring about it.

It falls right after Valentine’s Day, but even if you don’t have a sweetheart you can go and laugh at the ridiculousness of love and courtship.
You might have a little hot discussion afterwards about who was most guilty, the guys who planned the joke or the girls who were not faithful.

who: Asheville Lyric Opera presents Cosi fan tutte
where: Diana Wortham Theatre
when: Feb. 17-18 (8 p.m. $30/$42/$53. or 257-4530)

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