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From the Director's Chair: R. B. Schlather on "Così fan tutte"

By R.B. Schlather


From the Director’s Chair: R. B. Schlather on “Così fan tutte”

A mysterious, powerful man, and two naïve, testosterone-pumping adolescents in his thrall. A mythic world of gods and goddesses, honor and virtue, idols and warriors, battlefields and destiny, stoked in the imaginations of two sisters. Thankfully, these celestial fantasies are interrupted by the arrival of The Servant (Despina) who gives us some straight talk: that the world we live in is actually all about Servants and Masters. Her feminist-speak, after so much romance (and misogyny), confronts us with the dynamic polarity of the piece. By Act Two, our characters are stripped of their chaste fantasies, discovering the real, erotic, messy, and violent parts of human nature they hadn’t known were part of the bargain down here on Earth.

Director R. B. Schlather. Photo by Matthu Placek.

Director R. B. Schlather. Photo by Matthu Placek.

Così fan tutte’s extremes of plot and intensity of music are the qualities I want from an evening of theater. Intensely dramatic storytelling about growing up and getting hurt and hurting other people, feeling betrayed, wanting to retaliate; feeling guilty for desiring what your body wants; doing what you were brought up to think you’re supposed to do versus pursuing what you want to do. Societal misogyny, guilt, fantasy; radical feminism, individuality, humanity. It’s all coded into this piece, an opera so often dismissed as trivial, confusing, pastel, powdered sugar, empty calories. To me it’s a serious meal, thoughtful, personal, layered, albeit a bit stomach churning at the end!

What I love about this compact, pressurized ensemble piece is the extreme oppositions in the libretto – Women and Men; right and wrong; truth and deception; chastity and sin; individual and group; real and fantastic; youth and adult; master and servant; heaven and hell, day and night, hidden and revealed, and on and on. For a piece that is so polar, it ends ambiguously. Its challenge is in how “gray” it is. There is no clear bad or good. In fact, I think everyone behaves badly, by which I mean everyone hurts someone else because of their own deep hurt. And those painful feelings are what make the piece so uncomfortably relatable.

My practice is to strip away decoration in our repertoire, to clear away a lot of the clutter and see what’s underneath the assumptions and the traditions. To me that’s what “opera” (from the Italian, “work”) is. It’s the labor of using music and poetry and movement to express what’s honest and true, albeit in the most artificial, unreal ritual. We know that this is not real, what we’re doing, what you’re watching. But it can transport us, if we let it.

As an East coaster coming west to the Land of Enchantment, I bring with me fantasies of the American West, imagery of monumental landscapes, and American iconography. So this Così takes on a Western aesthetic, because for me it is happening here and now, in an immersive exchange between site and singer and audience. Thrillingly rich, alive, complicated, eternal — that great mix that keeps me so hooked on “opera.”

—R. B. Schlather

Così fan tutte opens July 13 and runs until August 22, 2019.

The cast of Così fan tutte features Amanda Majeski, Emily D’Angelo, Tracy Dahl, Ben Bliss, Jarrett Ott, and Rod Gilfry (Dale Travis on 7/17). Santa Fe Opera Music Director Harry Bicket conducts.

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