4 June 2019
Mozart’s “School for Lovers” offers romance and risk. Enroll today!
By Cori Ellison
The More You Know
Così fan tutte holds a special place among the trio of masterpieces Mozart crafted with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. Like their better-known Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni, this tale of two young men who test the fidelity of their fiancées is a dramma giocoso (“merry play”). But none of these three operas is more deserving of this oxymoronic-sounding designation than Così, a work as ambiguous as its title is untranslatable (let’s call it“All Women Act Like That”, or, more literally, “So Do They All”). Critics have variously described it as “a glorious soap-bubble,” “a deep and unsettling masterpiece,” “a musical lark,” and “a profound and terrifying tragicomedy;” they have praised both its “enchanted artificiality” and its “acute realism.”
So is Così fan tutte a proto-Freudian nightmare or a sort of Enlightenment I Love Lucy? The answer, of course, lies somewhere in between. For despite its easy laughs, its apparent neat symmetries, and the tidy paean to reason with which it ends, Così is a web of provocative ambiguities.
Populated by a pair of prideful men who accept a wager on their fiancées’ fidelity, a pair of fiancées who fail their test, a worldly-wise philosopher who manipulates the action, and a cheeky serving maid who aids him, Da Ponte’s libretto gave Mozart license to revel in one of the trademarks of his late operas: the constantly colliding parallel universes of opera seria and opera buffa. The characters in Così, ostensibly a comic opera, often lapse into opera seria-speak, sometimes offered up in parody (as in Dorabella’s and Fiordiligi’s Act I arias, “Smanie implacabili” and “Come scoglio”), and sometimes in a spirit of deep sincerity (as in Fiordiligi’s“Per pietà,” all three of Ferrando’s arias, and their majestic duet).
But Mozart and Da Ponte never let us wallow too long in gravity. They particularly enjoy pulling the rug from under us by reminding us that we’re in the theatre; in the Act I finale the cast crystallizes Così’s duality for us: the sisters deem the situation a “tragedy,” while the men call it a “farce.”
Director R.B. Schlather digs deep into Così’s emblematic duality, exploring the dark secrets that lie buried within each of us and the bright fantasies through which we attempt to escape them, creating a timeless production that promises to capture this masterwork’s unique sweet-and-sour flavor.
—Cori Ellison, Dramaturg
Così fan tutte opens Saturday, July 13 and runs for 7 performances through to August 22, 2019.