For some reason it turns out that I have found a particular focus on the opera “Cosi fan tutte.” I have probably read more about that one opera than about any others. Perhaps it is because I love it so much and it is often unfairly maligned that I have sought to understand what Da Ponte and Mozart were attempting to accomplish. So, I won’t repeat everything again. Instead please read these other essays that I have written on this opera:
In essence I argue that the original point of this work was to criticize current 18th century social conventions that placed women on a pedestal with such high expectations that no mortal woman could ever possibly measure up. The title says it all – “Cosi fan tutte – Women are like that” - like what? They are human beings, just like men!
That said, the point of this article is to reflect briefly on the current Cosi that was recently performed and broadcast to cinemas of the Royal Opera House’s new production. This production is slated to come to the Met in a season or two, which I have to say, is unfortunate. But let me give the spoiler alert warning. I am going to reveal some things that you might want to save until you see it yourself.
The foundational issue of this production seems to be an attempt to redeem an opera that this director has determined is simply no longer acceptable for 21st century audiences. It is too silly, sexist, mean-spirited, etc. – I suppose. How else do you account for the altering of the title of the work in large lighted letters at the end of the opera as Cosi fan tutti ? We all are like that! Yes, that is what da Ponte was getting at in the first place. But just within the context of his own society. After all, that is the culture in which he lived, and all it takes is a little study to understand the issues of gender roles, enlightenment, religion, social standing and so forth that all have an impact on this libretto.
Back to the ROH production: in my opinion the best singer on stage was Johannes-Martin Kraenzle who sang Don Alfonso. He was even dressed traditionally in 18th century garb with a sword at his side. The rest of the very youngish cast was adequate but I didn’t feel were all that strong, with the exception of Corrine Winters as Fiordiligi. The rest of the cast, by the way, (and the chorus) were all dressed in 21st century attire. They emerged from the audience at the end of the curtain calls, which took place during the overture – at the beginning of the opera! Yes, you read that right! Don’t ask. It was all rather perplexing, though I think the point was something along the lines that these young modern kids were going to participate in a theater event, as representatives of all the other hip and modern young people. It was all rather odd. But the bottom line is that there was no deception in this production. Everyone recognized everyone else. In fact, the fake mustaches were removed by the middle of the 2nd act so there was no surprise at all.
Well, that is all fine. It might even work except for one major problem. The libretto doesn’t support it. The denouement in the 2nd act finale has the girls terrified and Despina hiding and then the boys reveal the ruse. Except in this production everyone knew from the start, so there was nothing to reveal. So, it was just a romp – I guess. (And what in the world was with signing the marriage contracts in blood! I felt like we had jumped into a production of “Faust” for a moment! Or maybe “Siegfried” – blutbrudderschaft and all that!).
In short, I felt that the production essentially negated the entire point of the opera. It was just a romp, a diversion, a play in the course of relationship. That the couples at the end were obviously now smitten with the opposite partner seemed to me to lead to the conclusion that perhaps they’ll just have an open relationship from now on and share and share alike. Ultimately it all doesn’t matter in the end – Cosi fan tutti! So what? It is really a darn shame to unravel such a wonderful work. Da Ponte was making a statement about equality and humanity – this production simply turns everything into a generic, playful romp where nothing really matters.